American Restaurant and Bar Jobs Were Up in March

But unemployment for restaurant workers is still nearly double the national average.

Masked kitchen workers pass finished plates of food to a server at Claro restaurant on February 12, 2021 in New York City
Photo: Scott Heins / Getty Images

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their March job report on Friday, and the monthly figures came with a bit of good news for the restaurant industry. Employment numbers once again inched up for the second month in a row. However, any positive data also underscores a larger issue: The hospitality industry is seeing some of the biggest gains because it's one of the industries that was hit the hardest.

Across the U.S., employment was up 916,000 jobs in March, and overall unemployment dipped to 6.0 percent. As a result, the bureau took a positive tone. "These improvements in the labor market reflect the continued resumption of economic activity that had been curtailed due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic," the BLS wrote. They added, "Job growth was widespread in March, led by gains in leisure and hospitality, public and private education, and construction."

Specifically looking at leisure and hospitality, jobs were up 280,000, with restaurants and bars leading the way by gaining 176,000 jobs in the month, continuing 2021's turnaround. The restaurant industry saw employment numbers drop in January, before the tide once again began to turn with a gain of 285,900 jobs in February.

But employment is still way down from pre-pandemic figures: The BLS stated that the broader leisure and hospitality category still has 3.1 million fewer jobs than it did in February 2020, meaning more than one out of every six jobs has not yet returned. The current unemployment rate for restaurant and bar workers specifically is now at 11.8 percent, nearly double the national average.

And in pure numbers of unemployed people, the amount in the "food service and drinking places" category is very high. The only BLS-defined class of worker with more unemployed people is the retail trade, with 1.125 million. Overall, the industry may be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but the economy still has a long way to go before the restaurant industry is back in the clear.

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