August 21, 2020

Speed of restaurant employment recovery varies significantly by state

Job growth in the restaurant industry slowed markedly in July, according to preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Nationally, eating and drinking places* added a net 502,000 jobs in July, which was well below the gains of nearly 1.5 million jobs in both May and June. As a result, employment at eating and drinking places remained well below February’s pre-coronavirus level of 12 million. 

On the state level, restaurant industry job growth varied significantly in recent months, as jurisdictions followed different timelines for reopening their economies. However, the overall trends were generally similar throughout the nation in recent months.

First, restaurant employment in every state fell sharply in March and April. The northeast region of the country was hardest hit, with seven states losing more than 60 percent of their eating and drinking place jobs during those two months.

Second, restaurant employment levels in every state began to recover in May, as local economies started to reopen. California, Texas, Florida and New York set the pace by adding back more than 200,000 eating and drinking place jobs between April and July. However, these were also the four states that lost the most restaurant jobs in March and April.

To be sure, the restaurant industry’s road to recovery will not be without speed bumps. Four states – Texas, Arizona, Florida and Oklahoma – saw their eating and drinking place employment levels decline in July.

Restaurant job growth will likely continue to be choppy in the months ahead, due to the uncertainty associated with spiking COVID-19 case levels and the potential for renewed restrictions in some states.

Despite the recent gains, restaurant staffing levels were still well below pre-coronavirus readings in nearly every state. In 48 states and the District of Columbia, eating and drinking place employment in July was below its February level. Five states – California, Hawaii, Michigan, New York and Vermont – and the District of Columbia had at least 25 percent fewer people on payroll at restaurants in July than they did in February. 

South Dakota and Indiana were the only two states in which restaurant employment in July was higher than the February 2020 levels, according to the preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

View the employment data for every state.

[It’s important to note that the BLS monthly employment reports count jobs during the payroll period that includes the 12th of each month. Changes in restaurant staffing levels – both negative and positive – have occurred rapidly during the coronavirus pandemic, as restaurants quickly adjust their operating status in response to evolving regulatory and economic conditions. As a result, significant changes likely occurred during the weeks between each measurement period, and the monthly data may not fully capture the total job losses experienced during the coronavirus lockdowns. Still, the figures are a useful indication of the extent to which restaurant employment is recovering in each state.] 

*Eating and drinking places are the primary component of the total restaurant and foodservice industry, which prior the coronavirus outbreak employed 12 million out of the total restaurant and foodservice workforce of 15.6 million.

Read more analysis and commentary from the Association's chief economist Bruce Grindy.