April 6, 2021

Inequities in Reemployment Assistance in Florida: Pandemic Data Raises More Questions Than It Answers

Executive Summary

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) is not providing enough information about the resolution of Floridians’ claims for Unemployment Insurance (UI or unemployment assistance) during COVID-19. The limited data that DEO has made available raise serious questions about inequities and contain gaping holes about who is getting denied and the reason for denials. 

Florida Policy Institute’s analysis of recent U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey and DEO data found that Florida workers of color, workers in poor health, and those paid low wages have struggled to access state and/or federal UI benefits:

  • Black and Latino workers who apply for UI benefits are less likely than white applicants to receive assistance. Twenty-three percent of Black applicants and 28.5 percent of Latino applicants said that they did not receive unemployment assistance, compared to 15.3 percent of white applicants.
  • Workers in poor health are less likely to receive assistance than workers in better health. Almost half of UI applicants in Florida whose health is poor said that they did not receive unemployment assistance, a much higher rate than that reported by applicants in better health. Yet poor health does not in and of itself make a claimant for UI ineligible in every instance.
  • The massive job loss figures from Florida’s Leisure and Hospitality sector do not align with UI claims from workers in the industry. Despite shouldering the bulk of job losses in Florida, Leisure and Hospitality workers make up only 19 percent of all initial claims filed in Florida since the start of the pandemic.

The state collects much more information about claimants and the resolution of their claims than it reveals publicly. Neither the public nor state officials should be left to imagine what barriers may be thwarting the eligibility of workers trying to access help. More detailed data is necessary to help identify and solve systemic problems with Florida’s UI system. Having a comprehensive picture of what is happening to UI claimants — and why — is a critical first step to devising solutions to Florida’s broken UI program.

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