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The workers hit hardest during Covid-19's first wave are getting pummeled again

Since the beginning of the pandemic, one group of workers has been hurt far more than others: those working in the service industries, specifically in leisure and hospitality jobs. And in December after some progress, that industry lost jobs once again.

In the last full month of the Trump presidency, this hardest-hit sector lost 498,000 jobs, following 75,000 jobs gained in November, and making progress with a rise in jobs since August. Looking at the jobs on a chart shows a recovery after a sharp drop, and now a new drop.

“The most recent surge in coronavirus cases is once again battering the US labor market,” Indeed’s economic research director Nick Bunker wrote in a note. “The economic fallout from this wave of cases is hitting the industries and workers pummeled hardest by the initial damage before they fully bounced back from that first hit.”

The hospitality and leisure damage has caused overall employment to drop for the first time since April. The unemployment rate stayed at 6.7%.

Leisure and hospitality job market healing came to a halt in December. (BLS)
Leisure and hospitality job market healing came to a halt in December. (BLS)

“This is a particularly vivid reminder that we cannot get back to any semblance of normal until the pandemic is under control,” Bunker wrote.

MUFG’s Chris Rupkey pointed out that “it is almost unprecedented to have jobs turn back down after a recession.”

The latest hit isn’t as bad as the spring, as vaccines are rolling out and certain measures are in place, but restaurants, bars, and other jobs that depend on people interacting still cannot do business in a pandemic environment.

As Bunker noted, three-quarters of the half-million jobs lost came from food services and drinking places.

“Until the coronavirus is defeated, workers and businesses in the leisure and hospitality sector are at its mercy,” Bunker wrote. “These numbers are distressing, but they are reflective of the time when coronavirus vaccines were not rolled out and federal fiscal policy was still deadlocked.”

The hope now is that recent action by lawmakers can help get these workers through this difficult time as we wait for vaccines to roll out and the labor market to heal.


Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumer issues, personal finance, retail, airlines, and more. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.

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