Stop the revisionist history: here’s the facts about Florida’s unemployment system

by | Apr 7, 2020

Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released new data showing that jobless claims in the state of Florida more than tripled, with 227,000 Floridians filing for unemployment.

With businesses continuing to close and lay off workers, the new numbers from DOL dwarfed the previous week ending March 21 — a record high that saw 74,313 Floridians file unemployment claims. The stunning report from the DOL comes as job cuts soar across the state, with businesses closing as a result of economic fallout from the growing pandemic.

With so many Floridians hurting, Governor Ron DeSantis has had his hands full, trying to stop the spread of COVID-19 while simultaneously balancing one of the largest economies in the world.

At the same time, a handful of Florida media outlets have thrown logic out the window, transitioning to fingerpointing in an effort to pin the current unemployment debacle on Republican DeSantis. Then an unidentified staffer in the DeSantis administration tried to shift blame toward former Florida governor and now U.S. Senator Rick Scott for the current state of the unemployment system, which has resulted in thousands in the state being unable to file for unemployment.

Several media outlets, including Florida Politics’ Peter Schorsch, took the gloves off on Sunday:

“Scott was allegedly less interested in helping the unemployed as they searched for new work than he was in painting a (potentially false) image of a booming economy.”

The claim by Schorsch is provably false, and required only a cursory review of the Bureau of Labor Statistics website to debunk his claim:

Some people think that to get these figures on unemployment, the government uses the number of people collecting unemployment insurance (UI) benefits under state or federal government programs. But some people are still jobless when their benefits run out, and many more are not eligible at all or delay or never apply for benefits. So, quite clearly, UI information cannot be used as a source for complete information on the number of unemployed.

In blaming Scott, media pundits like Schorsch are only trying to score cheap political points through revisionist history rather than looking objectively at the historical facts.

It’s easy to blame administrations — past or present — when every new day brings unprecedented challenges and no remedy to defeat an invisible enemy. The truth, though, is simpler to understand.

Scott took office in 2011, taking over for Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist, who fiddled while Florida burned from the 2008 housing crash, and even issued a posthumous pardon of Doors lead singer Jim Morrison rather than take decisive action to implement substantive measures that might reverse Florida’s fortunes.

Scott, by contrast, campaigned on restoring Florida’s economy, promising to transform the state into a job-creation hotbed. “Jobs, jobs, jobs,” was his oft-cited mantra. At the time Scott was sworn into office, the state had just hit the bottom of the unemployment debacle occurring under Crist, hitting a high of 12 percent unemployment.

A month before Scott was inaugurated, an economic report published by the University of Central Florida’s Director for Economic Competitiveness made a dire prediction:

Next year should mark the beginning of a long, slow and steady decline in unemployment. The emphasis is on “slow” – it may be 2020 before we see unemployment fall below 6 percent again.

That prediction didn’t age well under Rick Scott’s term in office. The unemployment rate fell below 6 percent in 2014, and in Scott’s last full month as governor, the unemployment rate fell to just 3.3 percent.

But that single UCF prediction wasn’t the only dire news at the time Scott took office. Other news outlets reported there were 1.1 million Floridians were out of work when Scott was elected:

 

Compare those numbers: 1.1 million Floridians out of work, a level which took three years to hit, to the job losses experienced because of coronavirus: we’ve already surged past the quarter-million mark in only two weeks, with economists speculating an increase in unemployment claims when the numbers are released on Thursday.

To blame Scott or DeSantis for what happened to the state’s six-year-old unemployment system is just dumb. The current situation is far different from anything Scott faced, and anything he or DeSantis could have realistically prepared for or imagined.

Perhaps the largest difference driving the desperation behind the spiking number of unemployment website visits is that those who lost jobs over the last two weeks have no prospect at the moment to find work because employers across all industries are shut down. They can’t interview or hire someone even if their qualifications are a perfect match.

The unemployment system under then-Gov. Scott was built for a state with 5 to 10 percent unemployment and an abundance of open jobs that employers were desperate to fill — not double that number who are all stuck in their homes and prohibited from going out to look for work.

Is it a travesty that $77 million was spent on a website that can’t handle an unprecedented spike in traffic? Maybe. Maybe not. The current spike is unprecedented and was impossible to imagine just a few weeks ago. Further, neither Rick Scott nor Ron DeSantis personally designed or built the website, nor did either of them contemplate what might happen under the pressure of millions of phone calls and internet users crashing it at the same time.

As it stands, DeSantis’s administration is taking action to fix the problem. That’s his job, just as it was Scott’s job to fix the unique problems facing Florida during his watch. But finger-pointing because of the failure of a system overwhelmed by an unthinkable crisis is just pure, shameless politics.

Brian Burgess contributed to this story.

1 Comment

  1. carol A francis

    people want to know why the $600 extra is not in their paychecks

    Reply

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