Restaurants and bars near a full job recovery

Food services and drinking places added nearly 70,000 jobs in February, according to new federal data. They are now 100,000 jobs short of pre-pandemic levels.
Restaurant jobs february
Restaurants accounted for one out of every 4.5 jobs added in February. / Photograph: Shutterstock.

Restaurants and bars continued to add a healthy dose of workers last month as the industry gets near a full employment recovery three years after the start of the pandemic.

Food services and drinking places added 69,900 jobs in February, according to data released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). They now employ 12.2 million workers, or just over 100,000 jobs short of where they were in February 2020, the last month before widespread closures of dine-in services led to mass-scale job cuts at restaurants across the country.

Wages continued to grow. The average hourly wage for a nonsupervisory worker in the leisure and hospitality industries was $18.42, according to the BLS. That was up 8.4% over the past year and 24% over the past two years, when widespread labor shortages led to massive spikes in hourly wages. Restaurants account for the bulk of the leisure and hospitality workforce.

Overall, the economy added 311,000 jobs in February and the unemployment rate ticked up to 3.6%. Restaurants and bars accounted for one out of every 4.5 jobs created last month.

The labor force participation rate, a key figure that has influenced the labor shortage over the past two years, remained unchanged at 62.5%, the BLS said. The employment-to-population ratio was 60.2%. Both have held steady over the past year and remain below where they were in February 2020—when labor force participation was 63.3% and employment-population was 61.1%.

The restaurant industry was one of the hardest hit businesses in the country during the pandemic and governments shut down dine-in service to slow the spread of COVID-19. The industry lost half its workers between February and April 2020.

It has also been one of the slowest to recover. While private-sector employers and the economy have fully recovered from that era, restaurants remain below their pre-pandemic employment levels. Yet a pickup in hiring in recent months, despite concerns over profitability and the economy, means the industry is on pace to recover in the next two to three months.

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