Making Sense of the Unprecedented March 2020 Job Losses in the Hospitality Sector

The loss of hospitality jobs in March 2020 is unprecedented.

When we have April data in a month, we’ll see the U.S. economy suffered more hospitality job losses in two months than during the entirety of the last recession.

The leisure and hospitality sector includes businesses like hotels, restaurants, bars, casinos, amusements parts, museums. Some 85% of the sector is accommodations and food service (think hotels and restaurants). The sector reported 459,000 fewer jobs in March 2020. The worst monthly change prior to March 2020 was a loss of 83,000 (August 1989). The sector accounted for roughly 66% of the total decline in Nonfarm payroll (701K) during March 2020.

The leisure and hospitality sector shed 623,000 jobs during the Great Recession (Jan 2008-February 2010). That decline happened over two years. The current downturn is bigger and quicker than we have ever seen.

The March 2020 data only include workers who are paid by their employer for all or any part of the pay period including the 12th of the month. So it doesn’t include the destruction we saw in the second half of the month. That will come in April’s data. March is much worse than the data suggests.

Some of these furloughed employees will likely return to payrolls in 90 days. Many will not.