A Return to Pre-COVID-19 Employment Levels? - MagnifyMoney

While Many Jobs Have Returned, No Industry — Beyond the Federal Government — Has Reached Pre-COVID-19 Employment Levels

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April 2020 saw the U.S. go into full crisis mode, as the coronavirus pandemic exploded and states throughout the country put lockdown measures into place to try to mitigate the spread. As a result, millions of people lost their jobs and the national unemployment rate nearly hit 15%.

A year-plus later, a better understanding of the virus and the development and distribution of vaccines have helped the country and the economy begin to recover. The number of workers in the leisure and hospitality industry is up 70% since April 2020 after being the hardest hit — but it’s still down 13% from February 2020.

MagnifyMoney researchers examined U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) job data to find the industries that lost the most personnel — and determine which ones have recovered the best.

Key findings

  • Leisure and hospitality was by far the hardest-hit industry at the beginning of the pandemic, losing 49% of its workforce between February 2020 and April 2020. The number of people working in leisure and hospitality — including arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation and food jobs — fell by 8.2 million people.
  • The “other services” industry — including repairs, maintenance, personal care and religious organizations — took the second biggest hit early in the pandemic, losing 24% of its personnel. Even after a recovery, the total number of people employed in this industry sits 5% below the pre-pandemic figures.
  • Recovery may be gracing the hardest-hit industries fastest. The leisure and hospitality industry may have taken the biggest hit, but it has since seen the most robust growth. The number of people working in leisure and hospitality grew by 70% between April 2020 and June 2021. Still, the total number of workers in the industry sits 13% below its February 2020 figure.
  • A federal government job might be a safe bet against future catastrophe. BLS data shows that the number of people working for the federal government is unchanged since before the pandemic — the only industry to remain flat. Local and state government employment only fell marginally.

With restaurants closed and travel restricted, hospitality and leisure employees inevitably lost the most jobs

For many consumers, the pandemic officially began when restaurants and other businesses closed under state and local mandates. As two-week lockdowns became indefinite closures, unemployment numbers crept upward into a full-blown crisis.

With global travel restrictions, domestic flight cancellations, restaurant closures and canceled events, the leisure and hospitality industry lost nearly 8.2 million workers, or half its workforce, between February and April 2020.

Other industries also lost huge swaths of workers, with those falling under the “other services” category — reminder, this includes equipment maintenance, religious activities, laundry services, personal care services and more — losing the second-most workers at 24% of its pre-pandemic labor pool.

Overall, private industries — including hospitality — lost about 16% of their workforce from February to April 2020.

Employment changes by industry in response to the COVID-19 crisis

Employment rate change, February 2020 to April 2020Employment rate change, April 2020 to June 2021Total change, February 2020 to June 2021
Leisure and hospitality-49%70%-13%
Other services-24%25%-5%
Total private-16%14%-4%
Retail trade-15%16%-2%
Total nonfarm-15%12%-4%
Education and health services-12%8%-4%
Professional and business services-11%9%-3%
Transportation and warehousing-10%9%-2%
Mining and logging-10%1%-9%
Wholesale trade-7%4%-3%
Local government-5%0%-5%
State government-4%0%-4%
Financial activities-3%2%-1%
Federal government1%0%0%
Note: This table is sorted by the employment rate change from February 2020 to April 2020.

Looking for more information on the type of industries? Click here.

Lower-earning industries lost the most

On top of losing the most jobs, those in the hospitality and leisure industry also earned the lowest wages across the industries analyzed. Taking home an average of $437.41 a week in June 2020, it’s easy to imagine many of these workers being financially unprepared for a sudden loss of income.

Those working in the retail trade industry only earned $646.03 a week on average in June 2020, seeing one of the largest drops in the labor force with a 15% decrease from February 2020 to April 2020.

The education and health services sector lost 12% of its workforce, and those who remained employed earned an average of just $943.68 a week in June 2020.

Average earnings by industry

IndustryAverage weekly earnings, June 2020
Leisure and hospitality$437.41
Retail trade$646.03
Trade, transportation and utilities$860.69
Other services$869.19
Education and health services$943.68
Transportation and warehousing$961.88
Private service-providing$981.46
Total private$1,015.51
Nondurable goods$1,029.21
Durable goods$1,173.00
Wholesale trade$1,231.95
Professional and business services$1,282.01
Financial activities$1,420.50
Mining and logging$1,523.38

The good news is that — more than a year into the pandemic — some of these industries have begun to recover.

The harder the fall, the bigger the comeback?

While the federal government was the only industry that rebounded from pandemic employment losses (its numbers remain flat), the leisure and hospitality business has seen the most growth. Though it brought back 70% of its workforce between April 2020 and June 2021, the number of those working in that industry still stands below the pre-pandemic numbers.

Much of the country has reopened with little or more lax restrictions on restaurants and travel; still, personnel in leisure and hospitality remains 13% lower than in February 2020. It’s possible delta variant concerns and a shift in worker attitudes — particularly around low-paying jobs — have stunted potential recovery.

Still, the industry may be miles ahead of the other services group, which has seen just a 25% increase in jobs since April 2020. Overall, the leisure and hospitality industry still took the biggest loss, but it appears to be returning to normalcy the fastest.

The exception to both losses and recovery is the federal government. While every other industry examined saw a decline in employment from February to April 2020, the federal government increased employment by 1%. As such, it saw no need for a recovery, and employment remained fairly stagnant from April 2020 to June 2021. Local and state governments lost 5% and 4% of their workforces, respectively, a fraction of some of the other industries’ losses.

Preparing for the next catastrophe

A December 2020 MagnifyMoney survey found that 44% of consumers with emergency savings had already tapped them during the coronavirus pandemic. While it’s good to see so many folks had emergency savings to help during hard times, it’s probable that many who lost income during the crisis didn’t have enough, as 42% of consumers reported having less than $5,000 in emergency savings at the time of the survey.

Before the next global crisis unfolds, consumers should do their best to financially prepare by building — or in some cases rebuilding — robust emergency savings, LendingTree chief credit analyst Matt Schulz says.

“You never know when that rainy day is going to come or just how strong that storm will be, but you know one will come eventually, so the more prepared you can be with emergency savings, the better off you’ll be.”

Keep these tips in mind to prepare for a financial disaster:

  • Every little bit helps. Saving six months’ worth of expenses in an emergency fund is an ambitious goal. “For many of us, it simply isn’t realistic,” Schulz says. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try — contributing even a small amount to a high-yield savings account as often as possible will help your savings grow even when you can’t contribute.
  • There’s no such thing as overprepared. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that emergencies can last a long time. Even if you think you have enough cash in savings, it’s a good idea to keep adding to it. “The truth is that if you think you have enough money saved, there’s a good chance that you really don’t,” Schulz says. “When in doubt, put a little more away.”
  • Make the most of your savings. It’s one thing to have a good amount saved, but it’s another to make sure it’s safe and growing at a competitive pace. Don’t settle at a bank just because it’s familiar. Compare the best savings account rates and look for bonus offers that can give you an extra boost.


MagnifyMoney analysts looked at U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data by industry to find the industries hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis.

Specifically, analysts looked at the percentage change in employment in each industry over three periods:

  • February 2020 to April 2020 (early in the pandemic)
  • April 2020 to June 2021 (recovery after initial pandemic losses)
  • February 2020 to June 2021 (overall)