Unemployment claims in Florida surged to 227,000 for the week ending March 28, according to the latest statistics on Thursday from the U.S. Department of Labor.
For many of the people who've lost jobs amid the coronavirus pandemic, getting through the state's unemployment system hasn't just been difficult, it's felt impossible.
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Jessie Faber worked her last shift at The Village Grille (also called The Village Pump) in Lauderdale-By-The Sea on St. Patrick's Day. She's been trying to get through the state's online system for additional help with processing her unemployment claim since the week of March 23. She said it's been difficult since the begining of the process:
"I didn't expect it to be easy or fun, but I got on and it just shut down, shut down, shut down and kicked you off," Faber said.
She thought she had suceeded after logging on to file her claim before peak hours, at 6 a.m. one morning:
"I managed to finally get through it. ... It says that it's pending, and I have a claimant ID, but there's a note saying there was an issue with my identity," Faber said.
When she's tried to call for help, the line won't stop endlessly ringing. Ocassionally she gets to a recorded message with a warning of high call volume. She's even had problems with the step that comes after that — trying to email to see where she can send additional information.
Faber said, it's the same day after day. She said she's frustrated there isn't some sort of confirmation that her claim went through.
"I understand the system wasn't made for this. ... I wasn't expecting any sort of instant gratification, but at least some sort of update or guidance of managing expectations," she said. "Knowing that this is coming I can maintain my life. But if I don't know this is coming ... that is going to determine whether or not I'm paying different bills."
The workforce development agency for Broward County, CareerSource Broward, has been seeing impacts from this sharp rise in unemployment on a local level. The agency's career centers and administrative offices are temporarily closed, but staff is still working from home to help people remotely, and some of the agency's presentations are available on its website.
"Unfortunately, many employers in Broward County, and throughout South Florida in fact, have really been impacted and affected by COVID-19," said Javon Lloyd, senior communications manager for the agency. "With that being said, we've definitley seen a dramatic increase in the number of customers who have contacted us for employment, reemployment assistance and also on the business side ... and for financial assistance."
When it comes to CareerSource Broward's recommendations for navigating the Florida unemployment system, Lloyd said the agency is encouraging people to be patient.
"We're hearing from customers about the frustrations that they're experiencing, but we're just asking them to hang tight," he said. "We also encourage them if they're trying to apply for that [unemployment] assistance to try accessing the system during non-peak hours, even if it's in the middle of the night."
However, some large companies need more people and are looking to hire during the pandemic. CareerSource Broward is hosting a "virtual" online career fair Friday. Some of the positions open during the job fair include customer service representatives, medical scribes, retail stock associates, cashiers, licensed insurance agents, and security guards. and others. Some of the participating companies scheduled to participate include Amazon, Walgreens, GEICO and Walmart.
"There are companies out there that have immediate hiring needs," Lloyd said.
People who register will be able to upload their résumés to their profile, then search through open positions and job descriptions at virtual employer "booths." In some cases, representatives from the companies will be able to live chat with potential applicants.
It will run from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. "That'll give job seekers the flexibility to access the online event multiple times throughout the day," Lloyd said.
You can register for the virtual career fair here.