May 08, 2020

Three decades of restaurant jobs were lost during the last two months

The devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the U.S. labor market continues to come into focus. Not surprisingly, restaurants have suffered far more job losses than any other industry.

Eating and drinking places* lost 5.5 million jobs in April on a seasonally-adjusted basis, according to preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This followed a net decline of nearly a half-million jobs in March.

In total, nearly 6 million restaurant jobs had been lost as of the payroll period that included April 12. However, this number will likely grow much larger, based on a recent survey of restaurant operators nationwide.

Regardless of the final tally, the current magnitude of job losses effectively erased over three decades of restaurant job growth – albeit with the expectation that many of these jobs will return as the economy continues to reopen.

As reported by BLS, there were 6.4 million employees on payroll at eating and drinking places in April. This was the sector’s lowest employment level since May 1989.

While restaurants experienced the most job losses in recent weeks, they certainly weren’t alone. Professional and business services (-2.2 million), retail trade (-2.2 million), health care and social assistance (-2.2 million), manufacturing (-1.4 million), construction (-1.0 million) and accommodations (-900,000) were among the other industries to register significant employment declines during the last two months.

In total, nearly 21.4 million jobs were lost during the last two months. This sets the economy back to its employment level in February 2011.

Despite the economic carnage in recent weeks, consumers’ assessment of their household financial situation hasn’t completely fallen off a cliff. This suggests that as businesses continue the process of reopening, many households will have the financial wherewithal to jumpstart their economic activity.

Forty-four percent of adults describe their personal finances as ‘excellent’ or ‘good,’ according to a national survey conducted April 24-26 by Engine for the National Restaurant Association. Fifty-six percent of adults give their personal finances ratings of ‘fair’ or ‘poor.’

In an identical question fielded in mid-January, 53 percent of adults said their personal finances were in excellent or good condition, while 47 percent rated them as fair or poor.

*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.