Report from Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County underscores effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on unemployment

County’s April 2020 jobless rate almost five times higher than February figure, with accommodations and food service hit hardest

This graphic in the EDC report shows the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on employment in the county. Image from the EDC of Sarasota County

In February 2020, Sarasota County’s labor force numbered 193,051, with 187,336 holding jobs. The figures reflected an unemployment rate of 3%, the Economic Development Corp. (EDC) of Sarasota County says in a recent draft report.

Just two months later, however — in April 2020, the month after the first COVID-19 case was identified in Florida — the jobless rate had almost quintupled, shooting up to 14.8%, the EDC report notes.

The labor force had dropped to 172,051, with 25,379 of them out of work, EDC data show.

Yet, in November 2020, the number of people employed in the county had climbed back up to 175,458, out of a total labor pool of 184,837, the EDC points out in an analysis of the novel coronavirus pandemic’s effects on the county’s economy.

The November unemployment rate was 5.1%, the report adds.

Sarasota County’s December 2020 Economic Report pointed out that the county’s November 2020 unemployment rate compared to 6.3% for the state that month and 6.4% for the United States.

That county report further noted that, in November 2019, the number of people employed in the county was 184,684, with 5,275 more seeking jobs. That put the county jobless rate at 2.8%, a tick above the 2.7% jobless rate for the state, but lower than the 3.3% figure nationwide.

In a summary of its analysis of the pandemic, the EDC says that even though the economy has recovered since its low in April 2020, that recovery “is leveling off.”

Another graphic in the report provides a different perspective on the labor force trends. Image from the EDC of Sarasota County

Further, the summary continues, “Economy is well below the pre-pandemic levels of indicators,” and “[t]he duration of the pandemic is anticipated to continue to impose hardship on businesses.”

Rob Lewis, director of governmental relations for the county, sent the draft report to the county commissioners on Jan. 28, according to an email in the board’s online folder.

Lewis had asked the EDC for a report on the effects of COVID-19 on the county economy, he wrote, adding that he plans to ask for updates each quarter “as we move through the year.”

The county sector most affected by the pandemic, as listed in the EDC report, is “Accommodation and Food Service.” The number of people who lost jobs in that sector in 2020 was 2,316, the report says. That figure represented an 11.4% drop, the report notes.

The county’s January 2021 Economic Report says that in October 2020 — the most recent data available — hotel and motel gross sales added up to $30,916,363. That compared to $35,962,570 in October 2019.

The News Service of Florida reported on Jan. 28 that, with “first-time unemployment claims spiking [the previous week], a top Florida economist is cautioning that the vital, but battered tourism industry is in for another difficult spring because of COVID-19.”

The News Service added that Amy Baker, coordinator of the Florida Legislature’s Office of Economic & Demographic Research, told legislators the last week of January that, even with improved tax revenue figures for December 2020, “big spending foreign tourists aren’t expected to flock to Florida in the coming months because of the pandemic.”

Through Jan. 31, the Florida Department of Health reported, Florida saw 1,727,107 cases of COVID-19, with deaths totaling 26,685.

Florida residents made up the vast number of those whose infections have been documented, the Health Department noted: 1,695,300.

By the sector

This graphic shows the top 10 industries in Sarasota County as of June 2020, the latest data available. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The EDC draft report points out that the county sector in second place by number of jobs lost is “Administrative and Support Services (Employment Services),” which recorded a drop of 1,590.

In the “Retail” sector, 955 jobs were lost; and in the “Arts, Entertainment and Recreation” sector, 525 jobs disappeared, the report notes.

Sarasota County’s Economic Report for January listed the top 10 industries in the county as of June 2020, based on the number of jobs.

“Health Care and Social Assistance” was No. 1, with 31,128. “Retail Trade” was No. 2, with 22,289, while “Accommodation and Food Services” was in third, with 16,729.

“Construction” was fourth on the list, with 14,621.

Another segment of the EDC draft analysis, titled Observations and Considerations, does point to positive news. For example, the number of Sarasota County business licenses has increased, “according to the most recent available data.”

Further, “Manufacturing, logistics/distribution and life sciences have demonstrated resiliency, even growth,” the report says.

On the other hand, the report notes, “Office vacancies are increasing — companies are increasingly adopting flexible and remote working policies, leading to smaller office [footprints].”

The list also points to the fact that digital platforms and virtual meetings have proliferated, including digital conferences and trade shows, “as travel is limited …”

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