Hiring at restaurants and other hospitality providers surge in February, but million of jobs still missing

Restaurants, hotels, casinos, amusement parks and the like created 355,000 new jobs in February, but they still have a long way to go to get back to normal after being devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.

The big snapback in hiring in leisure and hospitality last month generated a surprisingly strong U.S. employment report for February.

Read: U.S. economy adds 379,000 jobs in February as hiring speeds up

“Just as important as the huge and unexpected increase in jobs is where most of those jobs were added: the hard hit leisure and hospitality category,” said Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union.

The increase in hiring stemmed in large part from loosened government restrictions on business after a sharp decline in new coronavirus cases in recent weeks.

Many states reimposed limits on hours of operations or customer limits at the end of last year after a record rise in Covid-19 cases, triggering a loss of more than 500,000 job in leisure and hospitality in January and December.

Hotels, restaurants and other businesses are hoping that vaccines and mass COVID-19 testing will lead to a return of people by the summer.

Services-oriented businesses that rely on large crowds and close person-to-person contact have suffered the most during the pandemic. Jobs in this catchall category of leisure and hospitality sank last spring by almost 50% to 8.7 million from 16.9 million.

So far companies in leisure and hospitality have recovered about 4.8 million of the 8.2 million jobs that the industry lost at the onset of the pandemic.

See: A visual look at how an unfair pandemic has reshaped work and home

Yet some 3.5 million jobs are still gone. They make up about one-third of all the jobs the economy is missing a year after the pandemic began.

The good news is many — though perhaps not all — of those jobs are likely to be filled in the months ahead if the vaccines work well and the pandemic fades.

Read: Inflation worries are back. Should you worry?

“This industry has been especially impacted by the virus, so progress here is a good sign for the future,” said Nick Bunker, economic research director of Indeed Hiring Lab.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average
and S&P 500
both fell in Friday trades. A strengthening economy is pushing yields U.S. Treasurys and other debt higher, siphoning away some money from the stocks.