Restaurants lost 372,000 jobs in December, helping to put the economic recovery in reverse as states closed dining rooms once again to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The restaurant industry now employs 9.8 million people, according to new Labor Department data released on Friday. It’s the lowest since August and represents the third straight month in which the industry has lost jobs following a summer of recovery.
Restaurants employ 2.5 million fewer employees than they had in February, before COVID-19 led to widespread closures of dining rooms that has hammered the industry, bankrupting restaurant chains and forcing numerous others to scrounge for cash to stay in business.
Restaurants lose more jobs
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
To be sure, many of the job cuts in December were likely temporary as restaurant companies furloughed workers as their dining rooms were closed by government directive and can be expected to come back in the coming weeks as service is restored.
But the numbers suggest that the industry has a long way to go to recover what it lost in 2020. Sales remain approximately 20% lower than they were a year ago—and 25% lower than what they could have reasonably been expected to be. Most of that is being felt by small chains and independents that rely more heavily on dine-in traffic for their business.
Many chains, especially large-scale fast-food chains and delivery-focused concepts, have seen growth in recent months.
The number of people employed by the restaurant industry is at the same level it was in 2011.
The decline in restaurant jobs was the top reason for the overall decline in employment. The economy lost 140,000 jobs as restaurant industry job losses offset gains from retailers and construction. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.7%, according to the Labor Department.
The impact of the restaurant industry on the December jobs report was not lost on groups pushing for more specific help. “New changes to the Paycheck Protection Program will be too little, too late for hundreds of thousands of people left without a paycheck this holiday season,” the Independent Restaurant Coalition said in a statement. “The people who work in restaurants and bars are uniquely hurt by this pandemic, and don’t deserve it.”