FL’s economic recovery: Mixed bag, challenges and uncertainty

Jobless workers demonstrate in Miami Springs in support of continued federal unemployment benefits in the pandemic economy. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

As the 2021 legislative session looms and the COVID pandemic continues, Florida’s recovery appears to be a mixed bag and far from full strength, according to Florida TaxWatch, a nonprofit government watchdog and taxpayer research institute.

“The state closed out 2020 on an optimistic note as unemployment inched
downward to 6.1 percent from a high of 13.8 percent in April 2020, but as January 2021 drew to a close, first time jobless benefit claims rose by more than 71,000 across the state, according to an economic commentary released Tuesday by TaxWatch.

Given those and other signs, the report suggested that “Florida is still far from full strength.”

Meanwhile, Gov. Ron DeSantis has proposed increasing the state budget for 2021-22 by billions, the Phoenix wrote last month.

The Legislature will convene March 2, and lawmakers will build the new budget over the next two months.

The TaxWatch report said that “much of the focus has been on the state’s ailing tourism industry for good reason. Yet as the recovery has dragged on, the impact of COVID-19 on Florida’s labor market has become more complex than at first glance, with varying effects across different industries, regions, and income levels.”

For example, certain industries, including leisure and hospitality, contributed most to unemployment in Florida. Those workers “tended to hold lower waged jobs and faced the shared challenge of being unable to transition to remote work throughout the pandemic.”

As to different parts of Florida, the report said:

“The large-scale reduction in tourism spending, the April stay-at-home order, and periodic rises in COVID-19 cases make central Florida and south Florida’s labor markets more susceptible to lingering unemployment compared to the rest of the state—a feature that will likely persist until a significant rebound in out-of-state visitors occurs.”

Overall, TaxWatch wrote that even as Florida continues to emerge from the state’s economic downturn, “challenges and uncertainty abound.”

Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.