VENICE — Florida’s took a bigger hit to its economy from COVID-19 than many states did — but it has bounced back more than most of them, too.

“Who opened the economy and got people back to work and who didn’t?” said Jerry Parrish, chief economist with the Florida Chamber Foundation. “This tells the story.”

There’s still room for improvement, though.

State officials are touting the addition of 776,000 jobs but the reality is that those are “recovered,” not new, jobs, Parrish said.

Speaking at the Venice Area Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Outlook 2021 event Friday, he said the state is still down about 500,000 jobs and won’t be back to prepandemic employment levels until January 2023.

And before then, he said, unemployment will be going back up again.

“When you come out of a recession, the unemployment rate goes up,” he said.

The biggest spike will be when schools open, Parrish said.

About 80% of the people who dropped out of the workforce over the last year were women and the top reason people cited in a Census Bureau Pulse Survey for not returning to work was the need to take care of children.

Schools are expected to fully reopen in August, freeing up a huge bloc of stay-at-home parents to seek work.

“People are going to freak out when they see how high the unemployment rate goes,” Parrish said.

Reversing the increase will require a major boost in international tourism, he said, because the leisure and hospitality industry took the biggest hit from the pandemic.

Visitation just from Canada is the equivalent of 10% of that country’s population annually but last year it fell off by 99%, he said.

Other international travel fell off as well, with only a fraction of the average 14 million people paying a visit.

As a result, hotels and restaurants suffered major losses, with a ripple effect that contributes to unemployment, Parrish said.

Many people enter the labor force through the hospitality industry and acquire employability skills such as teamwork and problem-solving that can carry over to other jobs.

It’s often easier to teach someone from a hospitality job a technical skill than to teach someone with technical skills how to deal with the public, he said.

Because of the uncertainty of international visitation, Parrish said, it’s going to take until the first quarter of 2023 for the industry to reach 100% recovery.

He expects an increase in tourism in the fall but noted that vaccination rates in most other countries lag behind the U.S.’s level, so there will still be limits on travel.

But with sun, beaches, no state income tax and a reliable power grid, “Florida’s going to win this game,” he said.


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