Florida reliant on tourism for pandemic economic recovery, but numbers remain bleak

Coronavirus

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Fewer Floridians filed for unemployment last week than any other week since mid-March, a possible signal that the worst of the unemployment crisis may be behind us.

However, unemployment data released weekly by the US Department of Labor also shows the the Sunshine State continues to suffer one of the slowest pandemic economic recoveries.

While part of that can be attributed to Florida’s near-record low unemployment prior to the pandemic, much of the delayed recovery is tied to tourism, the lifeblood of Florida’s economy and the industry hardest hit by COVID-19.

Delynn Meyer was one of roughly a thousand workers furloughed from the Trade Winds Resort in March. However, she’s one of the lucky ones. She found a new job just a couple months later.

“I knew in my heart of hearts hospitality was going to be hit hard, I just didn’t know how hard,” she said. “There are still so many people out of work in hospitality, so many people who don’t know when they’ll be able to go back to work.

A new report released this week by the US Travel Association shows leisure and hospitality accounts for 40 percent of the country’s long term pandemic unemployment, a far greater number than any other industry and disproportiate to the role tourism plays in the overall economy.

Florida in particular is reeling, with a similar state report released last month by Destinations Florida showing tourism revenue down more than 80 percent.

“I think the federal government needs to do something for hospitality,” Meyer said.

It’s trying to.

Both the HEROES Act passed by the House of Representatives in May as well as the Senate’s recently-unveiled alternative, the HEALS Act, include provisions that would benefit tourism including an expansion of the Paycheck Protection Program.

But lawmakers remain in a stalemate.

Congresswoman Kathy Castor, D-FL, says a relief package compromise must come as soon as possible.

“We’ve come down about half from where we started, and we want (the Senate and the White House) to meet us halfway,” she said.

Even then, however, Castor explains that financial aid is merely a Band-aid solution. That’s because if other states continue to impose travel restrictions on those who travel to and from Florida, true recovery won’t come until the virus is under control.

“Then it will be safer to get back to work, safer to travel,” Castor said.

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