Florida jobless rate at 4.8 percent in April

Florida’s unemployment rate inched up to 4.8 percent in April as the state reported people slowly returning to the labor force after more than a year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state Department of Economic Opportunity on Friday said the April rate was up from 4.7 percent in March. An estimated 487,000 Floridians were reported as jobless out of a workforce of 10.24 million.

The number of people employed increased by 59,000 from March to April, while the workforce grew by 73,000 in the same time.

Adrienne Johnston, the department’s chief economist, called the workforce increase "a positive sign."

"You want to see the labor force increasing. That may result in either a steady or a slight increase in the unemployment rate. That’s not necessarily a bad thing," Johnston told reporters Friday. 

Still, the return of workers to the leisure and hospitality sectors continues to be at a slower pace than in some other industries, Johnston acknowledged.

In an effort to get more workers back on the job, the state on June 1 will once again require new unemployment applicants to follow a "work search" rule that requires unemployment claimants to apply for five jobs a week. 

Last week, department Executive Director Dane Eagle said many people are taking advantage of the maximum $275 a week in Florida benefits and $300 in federal assistance, which, when combined, are competitive with weekly pay at many restaurants and tourism businesses.

"You've seen restaurants that have had to close earlier or open later or close certain days of the week," Eagle said during a news conference outside downtown Tallahassee’s Metro Deli. "All over the Panhandle, I've seen signs that say, ‘Welcome to the new pandemic.’ The 2021 pandemic is unemployment, not being able to hire. So, we've got to put an end to that."

The state suspended the work-search requirement last year because of the pandemic.

The April unemployment numbers were a vast improvement from a year earlier, when unemployment spiked to 14 percent, with 1.365 million people out of work as the pandemic forced businesses to shut down or dramatically scale back.

Last Friday, the U.S. Department of Labor reported the national economy added 266,000 jobs in April, well below expectations, raising the national unemployment rate from 6.0 to 6.1 percent.

The jobless rate in Florida has hovered around 4.8 percent since the start of the year. Florida has averaged just under 20,000 unemployment claims a week since the start of February,  with an estimated 17,849 claims filed last week, according to the Department of Labor.

Among the state’s metropolitan statistical areas, the Sebring area held the highest unemployment in April at 6.3 percent, followed by the Homosassa Springs area and The Villages, both at 6.2 percent.

Among the larger metropolitan areas, the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach region was at 5.9 percent, followed by the Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford market at 5.6 percent.

The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater region was at 4.7 percent and the Pensacola area was at 4.5 percent. The Jacksonville area was at 4.4 percent.