As major airline, theme park layoffs loom, new unemployment claims fall

Noble Horvath

The number of Americans filing new unemployment claims last week continued its slow, steady decline — even as major employers like the Walt Disney Company, American Airlines and Marriott move toward tens of thousands of layoffs and furloughs this fall. Another 837,000 workers filed initial claims for the week ending […]

The number of Americans filing new unemployment claims last week continued its slow, steady decline — even as major employers like the Walt Disney Company, American Airlines and Marriott move toward tens of thousands of layoffs and furloughs this fall.

Another 837,000 workers filed initial claims for the week ending Sept. 26, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Labor. That number is more of an estimate than usual, due to a temporary change in how California is reporting its data. But it still represents a drop of 36,000 from the week before.

Overall, 26.5 million Americans claimed unemployment benefits for the week ending Sept. 12, the most recent week for which data is available, an increase of nearly 484,856 from the week prior.

Florida last week reported fewer than 30,000 new unemployment claims for the first time during the pandemic, a number that remains higher than every other week since 2010. The state also just passed a milestone: 2 million residents who have received at least one unemployment payment during the pandemic. More than $16.8 billion in state and federal has been doled out so far.

Related: Florida unemployment: If you get benefits, get ready for the ‘quarter change’

The new numbers come as the state has turned precarious corners elsewhere. On Tuesday, Disney announced plans to lay off 28,000 employees, including at least 6,600 in Orlando starting Dec. 4, according to state filings. Marriott continued announcing thousands of job cuts at its hotel and vacation properties in Central Florida.

The airline industry that feeds Florida’s tourism industry is bracing for tens of thousands of layoffs and furloughs following Thursday’s end of a $25 billion bailout package from this spring. A multi-billion-dollar loan deal reached this week between seven major airlines and the U.S. Treasury Department could blunt the worst of those cuts, but United Airlines and American Airlines have announced 32,000 furloughs that could begin any day

Related: Florida officials praise business reopenings as Disney layoffs loom

Meanwhile, days after moving the state to Phase 3 or its reopening plan, which allows for full bars and restaurants, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced he was letting the state’s months-long eviction and foreclosure moratorium expire on Thursday, a move that could leave some residents vulnerable to action from landlords and lenders.

Related: DeSantis will let Florida’s eviction and foreclosure moratorium expire

“There’s a lot of uncertainty going on with a lot of people,” said Bradley Kamp, chairman of the economics department at the University of South Florida. “The decrease in income for people that lost their jobs, that’s going to take a while to work its way through. So we’re not going to be up to what I would consider full employment for quite some time.”

Alexandra Nixon, who runs a sign language interpreting business in Clearwater, has seen her income drop to 25 percent of pre-coronavirus levels. She qualified for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, receiving five $600 payments starting in May.

Then, in mid-July, it stopped. She has 17 claims listed as pending, “and apparently, no one in the state of Florida can get it out,” she said.

“I have spoken to at least 10 supervisors. I’ve put 250 hours’ work into this,” she said. “I’m down to $1,000 a month of income, so I have to DoorDash and do other things.”

Department of Economic Opportunity officials say that for claimants who are still stuck trying to recover weeks they feel should be paid, the best course of action is to continue contacting and working with customer support representatives.

Upon logging into the state’s unemployment system Thursday morning, Nixon saw that the first of her delayed claims appeared to have been processed, though she was still waiting on the money to arrive in her account.

“I cannot tell you the emotional and psychological impact it has had on me,” Nixon said. “I’m a tough-ass broad. I’ve been through stuff in my life. But the long-term thing here has just hit my stress level. It got it so high for so long, I’ve gone through massive depression. I’m just feeling better now that I’m actually starting over again.”

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