Restaurant and bar employment in December continued to return from pandemic lows, but the pace of recovery slowed and the total jobs continued to fall short of February 2020 highs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday.
The overall jobless rate ticked down 0.3 percentage points to 3.9% in December, the agency said in its monthly report.
“The number of unemployed persons decreased by 483,000 to 6.3 million,” the bureau said. “In February 2020, prior to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the unemployment rate was 3.5%, and unemployed persons numbered 5.7 million.”
Employment in leisure and hospitality continued to trend up in December, adding 53,000 jobs, the bureau said, but overall employment in the industry segment was still lower than before the pandemic was declared.
“Leisure and hospitality has added 2.6 million jobs in 2021, but employment in the industry is down by 1.2 million, or 7.2%, since February 2020,” the bureau reported. “Employment in food services and drinking places rose by 43,000 in December but is down by 653,000 since February 2020.”
Bruce Grindy, chief economist for the National Restaurant Association, said in his monthly commentary that “restaurant employment continued to trend higher in December, but overall staffing levels remained well below pre-pandemic readings.”
A period of relatively modest job growth, compared to the gains posted early in the pandemic recovery, has continued in the past few months, Grindy noted.
“Restaurants added an average of 56,000 jobs during the last five months, which was well below the average gains of nearly 200,000 jobs during the first seven months of the year,” Grindy said.
During all of 2021, eating and drinking places restored nearly 1.7 million jobs to payrolls.
“While this was easily the largest calendar-year employment increase on record, it still left the industry roughly 650,000 jobs — or 5.3% — below pre-pandemic staffing levels,” Grindy said. The pandemic was declared in March 2020.
But while job growth slowed in December, demand for employees remained high, Grindy noted.
“In a November 2021 survey fielded by the association, 77% of operators said their restaurant did not have enough employees to support existing customer demand,” he said.
A majority of both full-service operators (80%) and limited-service operators (73%) said their restaurants did not have enough employees, Grindy said.
Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless