Report: People Of Color Disproportionately Denied Fla. Unemployment Benefits

Apr 6, 2021

A new analysis from the left-leaning Florida Policy Institute finds that during the coronavirus pandemic, Black and Latino workers in Florida were more likely than white workers to be denied unemployment benefits. 

The think tank is calling on the Florida government for more transparency about the reasons for these disparities. 

From the start of the pandemic until this January, Florida’s leisure and hospitality industries lost 197,000 jobs, the most of any sector of the economy. Many of jobs tend to be low-wage, and they’re disproportionately done by workers who are Black and Latino, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Latino workers make up 17% of the total workforce, but 24% of the workforce in the leisure and hospitality industries. African Americans account for 12.1% of the total workforce, while in the leisure and hospitality industries Blacks make up 12.7% of the workforce.

The analysis from the Florida Policy Institute found that leisure and hospitality workers made up 19% of applications for unemployment benefits. And, even among those who did apply for benefits, the workers who received benefits were disproportionately white. 

According to a weekly survey of Floridians conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 15% of white applicants and 13% of Asian applicants were denied unemployment benefits, while 28.5% of Hispanic or Latino applicants were denied. Twenty-three percent of Black applicants were denied, as were 35.4% of people who self-identified as multi-racial. The sample size was too small to calculate denial rates for people in other racial categories. 

Credit Florida Policy Institute

It is not clear whether the disparity in who receives benefits is reflected in the leisure and hospitality sector, or why applications from people of color were disproportionately rejected by the Department of Economic Opportunity.

FPI relied on numbers from the Florida DEO, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the U.S. Department of Labor to come to the conclusions in its report.  

FPI senior policy analyst Cindy Huddleston wrote in the analysis that questions remain about  why those disparities exist. For instance, it may be that low-wage workers are less likely to identify the industry in which they work when they file for unemployment insurance, or they may be more likely to find jobs with other employers, instead of having to file for benefits.

“There are too many unanswered questions about who’s able to qualify for unemployment assistance in Florida, and the demographics of people who are able to qualify,” Huddleston said. “That information is there in the recesses of state computers somewhere, and it needs to be released.”

Huddleston said that more information on why claims are denied (fraud, incomplete information, or other reasons) could help Floridians qualify for aid they’re entitled to. 

Statewide, of 5.3 million unemployment claims filed in Florida during the pandemic, less than half were approved, about 2.4 million. Huddleston said that’s not a huge departure from the pre-pandemic norm, but with so many more people unemployed, more people are left without help. 

The latest figures put Florida’s unemployment rate at 4.7%, slightly above the pre-pandemic rate of 3.3% but inching closer to normal after a pandemic height of 14.2% last May. 

Contact Sydney Boles at sboles@wjct.org, or on Twitter at @sydneyboles.