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Florida's jobless claims are down after an initial increase following Hurricane Ian

Hurricane Ian Local Businesses
Bobby Caina Calvan
Ashley Galassi, a bartender at Tina’s, a watering hole at Fisherman’s Wharf in Fort Myers, Florida, attends to a patron on Friday, Oct. 7, 2022. She says the bar will likely be demolished and reopen elsewhere. Hurricane Ian might have come and gone, but it has done long-term damage to the small businesses of a region heavily dependent on tourists and seasonal residents.

In the four weeks before Ian made landfall Sept. 28, Florida averaged 5,498 unemployment claims a week. In the four weeks after Ian, the state averaged 10,779 claims a week.

Unemployment claims in Florida decreased last week after a jump following Hurricane Ian, though resort workers and self-employed people show signs of continuing to feel the brunt of the Category 4 storm.

The U.S. Department of Labor on Thursday released a report that said an estimated 7,505 first-time unemployment claims were filed in Florida during the week that ended Oct. 29, down from a revised count of 9,337 during the week that ended Oct. 22.

In the four weeks before Ian made landfall Sept. 28, Florida averaged 5,498 claims a week. In the four weeks after Ian, the state averaged 10,779 claims a week.

With a jobless rate in September at a historic low of 2.5 percent, Florida’s overall employment figures have not reflected the impact of Hurricane Ian. The September data was collected before the storm hit. The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity will release October data on Nov. 18.

Meanwhile, with the winter tourism season starting, several Southwest Florida resorts have indicated it will take time to recover in areas hardest hit by Ian.

In a letter posted Friday by the Department of Economic Opportunity, the 72-year-old Pink Shell Beach Resort in Fort Myers Beach advised the state that it had laid off 186 hourly workers and nine managers because of the storm. The resort covers 12 acres along the water.

“We do not anticipate opening to the same level of service as we had pre-hurricane for the next year or so,” the resort said in the letter.

The hurricane caused massive wind and flooding damage in Southwest Florida and resulted in 130 confirmed deaths as of Tuesday.

On its website, Pink Shell Beach Resort said that while it is committed to reopening, “we are also going to use this opportunity to make enhancements to the property.”

The resort has also started an “associate relief fund” on GoFundMe for “team members who have lost access to vital resources, faced insurmountable damage to their homes or been displaced.” It had raised nearly $115,000.

The layoff announcement followed similar actions by Ritz Carlton, Naples, which let go 591 employees because of the storm, and South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island, which let go 238 workers.

Because of Ian, the state temporarily lifted what is known as the “waiting week” before unemployment benefits can be paid on claims made in storm-damaged areas. The agency also suspended a requirement that applicants in the areas contact five potential employers a week to keep unemployment benefits flowing.

Also, more than 19,800 people in Florida have filed for federal disaster unemployment assistance.

The assistance is available through April 1 to people affected by Ian who are not eligible for regular state or federal unemployment assistance benefits in counties declared disaster areas. Those people, for example, can include self-employed workers.

As of Wednesday, more than 9,600 of the assistance requests had been approved, the Department of Economic Opportunity said.

Nationally, 217,000 new unemployment claims were filed last week, down 1,000 from the prior week.

Over the past four weeks, the national average stands at 218,750 claims.

Despite pressure from high inflation and increased interest rates, the Department of Labor this week reported that 10.7 million job openings were advertised as September ended, up from 10.1 million in August.