Restaurant job growth slowed in the first quarter, but total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 431,000 in March, and the unemployment rate slipped to 3.6%, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday.
Employment in leisure and hospitality continued to increase, with a gain of 112,000 jobs in March. Foodservices and drinking places added 61,000 jobs and accommodations added 25,000, the agency said.
Employment in leisure and hospitality is down by 1.5 million, or 8.7%, since February 2020, the month before the COVID pandemic was declared.
The unemployment rate declined by 0.2 percentage point to 3.6 percent in March, and the number of unemployed people decreased by 318,000 to 6 million.
“Although March represented the 15th consecutive month of restaurant job growth, it was also the smallest gain during that period,” wrote Bruce Grindy, chief economist for the National Restaurant Association, in his monthly look at the employment numbers.
“As a result, the 252,000 restaurant jobs added during the January-March period represented the smallest quarterly increase since the fourth quarter of 2020,” Grindy said.
Grindy noted that eating and drinking places remained 820,000 jobs – or 6.6% – below pre-pandemic staffing levels and workers were moving between restaurants.
“While total eating and drinking place payrolls expanded by an average of 121,000 jobs during the last 15 months, the number of positions filled by the industry each month was nearly 10 times that much,” Grindy said.
Employers in the restaurants and accommodations sector over the past 12 months on average hired more than 1 million people each month, according to Job Openings and Labor Turnover (JOLTS) data from BLS.
“At the same time, an average of 897,000 people left their jobs each month – either by quitting (746,000), layoffs (127,000) or other circumstances (24,000),” Grindy noted.
The recent churn in the hospitality workforce was similar pre-pandemic trends, he said. “Employers in the restaurants and accommodations sector hired an average of 952,000 people each month during 2019 – or about 86,000 fewer than the average of 1,038,000 people hired during the last 12 months,” Grindy noted.
Eating and drinking places are the primary component of the total restaurant and foodservice industry, which before the coronavirus outbreak employed 12 million out of the total restaurant and foodservice workforce of 15.6 million.
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