ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is warning by the month’s end, there will be more restrictions for people to qualify for unemployment benefits.

What You Need To Know

After multiple renewals, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ "work search" waiver will expire May 29, followed by the expiration of the "work registration" waiver June 26.

After May 29, individuals will have to prove they’re actively applying for jobs by completing three to five weekly job searches, based on population of their county’s residency.

Those who file new unemployment claims after June 26 will also have to register with Employ Florida for work search assistance.

While Florida has some of the lowest unemployment benefits in the nation (up to $275 per week for up to 12 weeks), many in Florida continue to receive benefits through a series of extended federal benefit programs, providing up to $300 per week.

That funding is set to end in September, although at least six state governors have said in recent days they will, or are considering, ending federal unemployment benefits early to address a worker shortage.

Those states include Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, South Carolina, and North Dakota.

To this point, DEO executive director Dane Eagle told reporters Wednesday: …We are monitoring and seeing what the other states are doing, and I won’t take it completely off the table, but as of today, we’re focused on this return to work initiative.”

Eagle said Florida’s new "Work Search Initiative" is meant to help people return to the workforce, as a growing number of business owners say they’re finding it harder to hire people.

While some companies are now offering various incentives to even interview, many business owners remain convinced their struggle to hire workers is easily explained by a theory that people are earning more on unemployment than they would on the job

“Unemployment benefits are higher than current minimum wage, so people through no fault of their own, as the governor said, they’re availing themselves to the benefits made available to them. Why wouldn’t they stay home? But that is not sustainable in today’s market,” said Eagle.

QUICK MATH: If a person were to receive combined state and federal benefits of $575 per week for 12 weeks, they could earn upwards of $6,900 – or $14.37 per hour, well above Florida’s minimum wage rate of $8.56.

Unemployment Advocate Vanessa Brito, however, says many Floridians are not getting the maximum benefits, even as many struggle with the state’s problem-plagued system that’s holding benefit payments for weeks or months, in some cases.

Just the $300 per week federal benefits comes out to $15,600 per year, or $7.50 per hour, below Florida’s minimum wage rate.

Brito said of the claims she’s reviewed, the annual income from unemployment has ranged between $16,000 and $20,000.

Eagle said Wednesday with a surplus of job openings, the state’s economy cannot support mass openings going unfilled.

“Employers are trying to meet that demand, but struggling to do so because the market doesn’t meet it,” Eagle said. “The market today is saying we need to hire people, but we can’t because unemployment benefits are too high. That’s why we want return to work initiative to be understood.”

Labor advocates, including Paul Cox, president of International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 631, say employers’ real hiring struggle is due to low wages and few benefits being offered.

“It is pure supply and demand economics,” Cox said. “I don’t know a single Floridian who wants to collect unemployment. They want to get back to work and do things they enjoy.”

A review of Employ Florida’s job database shows many postings do not include salary or wage data. 

Florida DEO says the state’s current unemployment rate is 4.7%, below the national unemployment rate of 6.0%. DEO says the state has more than 400,000 job openings in a cross section of industries.

The problem may be more complex than just that though. Job seekers say they’re struggling to find decent work with decent pay as much as employers say they’re struggling to find workers.

Applicants have shared accounts to Spectrum News of business owners interviewing for one job, but then offering another. Many also say businesses continue to offer wages that make it difficult to make ends meet, with few benefits.

Economists say the worker shortages could be the result of a mix of other things, in addition to wages.

  • People moving away
  • People upskilling and finding other jobs
  • People still on furlough, so need unemployment benefits, but not new jobs

Adding to the complexity are the dynamics of job searchers themselves.

Multiple older workers told Spectrum News that, despite filling out hundreds of applications, they have often gotten few call backs, if any. Fearing "ageism", some have expressed struggle securing work because employers are concerned they may leave after a few years, or their experience and past wages make them undesirable.

While economists suggest there could be major shifts in the job market, for one reason or another, U.S. Labor data suggests many are also leaving the workforce altogether.

Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows more than 4.3 million Americans left the workforce since the start of the pandemic. Reasons for leaving the workforce are myriad: they may have retired, or are unable to work while caring for a sick family member or for children. 

People who have left the workforce typically can't collect unemployment benefits.