HomeEconomic IndicatorUS Restaurant Jobs Return to Pre-Pandemic Levels, Indicating Recovery

US Restaurant Jobs Return to Pre-Pandemic Levels, Indicating Recovery

US Restaurant Employment Reaches Pre-Pandemic Levels

Introduction: In a promising sign of recovery for the leisure and hospitality industry, U.S. restaurant employment has reached pre-pandemic levels for the first time in three-and-a-half years. This development, highlighted in a recent report, reflects the resilience of the sector and its potential to bounce back from the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Positive Signs for the Industry

According to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as part of the monthly U.S. employment report, the number of Americans employed in food service increased by 61,000 in September compared to the previous month. This growth in restaurant employment played a significant role in the wider leisure and hospitality sector, which added a total of 96,000 jobs in the same period.

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The surge in restaurant and bar employment last month was nearly double the average monthly job growth of 37,000 over the past year. This indicates a strong recovery trend and suggests that the industry is gaining momentum.

Overall Job Growth and Recovery

The positive news extends beyond the restaurant sector. In September, American employers added a total of 336,000 jobs, maintaining the unemployment rate at 3.8%, according to the BLS report. These figures underscore the broader recovery of the U.S. economy as it gradually emerges from the impact of the pandemic.

Pandemic Impact on Food Service Employment

Food service employment took a severe hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. In March and April 2020, the industry lost a staggering 6 million workers as people shifted to dining at home due to quarantine measures. Restaurant and bar employees bore the brunt of the layoffs, accounting for over a quarter of the 22 million job losses during that period, despite comprising just 8% of the total employment at the time, as per BLS data.

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Even as restrictions eased throughout 2021 with the progress of vaccination campaigns, food service establishments faced challenges in attracting frontline employees due to ongoing health concerns related to COVID-19. However, the recent surge in employment suggests that these concerns are gradually being overcome.

Insights from Acting Labor Secretary

Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su expressed optimism about the situation, stating, “It took some time but we made it.” She highlighted the positive impact of wage gains, particularly among lower-paid workers, on the overall economy. Su noted that workers now have sufficient income to spend, which contributes to sustained job growth, even in an industry that was hit hardest at the onset of the pandemic.

Challenges in the Leisure and Hospitality Sector

While the food industry has seen a significant rebound in payrolls, the broader leisure and hospitality sector continues to face challenges in regaining pre-pandemic levels of employment. Industries such as hotel accommodations, amusement and gambling services are still below their February 2020 employment levels. Hotel employment, in particular, remains 10% lower than pre-pandemic levels.

However, there have been notable recoveries in certain segments. The performing arts and spectator sports industry, for instance, has surpassed its February 2020 employment level by 5%, indicating a positive trajectory.

Conclusion: The achievement of pre-pandemic restaurant employment levels is a significant milestone for the leisure and hospitality industry. It demonstrates the sector’s resilience and potential for recovery. While challenges persist in other areas of the industry, the overall job growth and positive trends point towards a brighter future. With the gradual reopening of the economy and the ongoing vaccination efforts, the path to full recovery seems within reach.

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