Restaurant and bar employment returns to pre-pandemic levels

New federal data show the sector added 61,000 jobs in September, or more than 1 of every 5 positions created economywide. The unemployment rate remained at 3.8%.
Customers are less likely to see signs like this after last month's hiring surge. | Photo: Shutterstock

With the addition of 61,000 jobs in September, restaurants and bars are back to their pre-pandemic employment levels, according to figures released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Restaurants and bars now account for 12.37 million jobs, up from 12.34 million in February 2020, before widespread closures of dine-in service across the country led to millions of furloughs and layoffs that wiped out half the industry's jobs within a two-month period. The industry was also one of the last industries to have fully recovered from those job losses, though it was among the hardest hit. 

The lodging industry, however, remains understaffed, with a shortfall of about 217,000 positions from the February 2020 level, despite the addition of 16,000 jobs in September, BLS said.

The data show that hiring was strong across the whole nonfarm economy last month, with 336,000 jobs added in total, significantly above the average of 267,000 additions per month for the prior year.

The leisure and hospitality segment, the category that includes eating and drinking places, added about a third more jobs than it has on average during each of the prior 12 months, or 96,000 versus 61,000.

Restaurants and bars accounted for the bulk of that increase. They once again led all sectors in job creation, accounting for more than 1 of every 5 jobs created last month.

The national unemployment level remained at 3.8%.

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