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Nationwide Restaurant Hiring Hits a Wall as Stimulus Talks Pick Up Steam

Flat jobs growth and a provisional decline in restaurant jobs could pressure lawmakers to reach a stimulus deal soon

Inside an empty restaurant with the chairs stacked up on top of marble tables
An empty restaurant in New York City
Gary He/Eater

As another wave of COVID-19 infections devastates every aspect of life in the U.S., the country’s economic recovery continues to sputter, according to a new federal report.

Employers are adding fewer jobs, particularly in the devastated bar and restaurant industry. The ranks of those employed for over six months is rising. Joblessness among Black people remains at stratospheric levels. And rising shutdowns throughout the hospitality industry, with an indoor dining ban looming for New York City, suggest that the worst is yet to come, adding pressure on lawmakers to pump money back into the economy via a long-awaited stimulus package.

More specifically, unemployment fell to 6.7 percent last month, according to the U.S. November jobs report, but employers added just 245,000 jobs, well under half of October’s gain. That marks the fifth straight month of decelerating jobs growth.

Flattening jobs growth means that those who remain unemployed will face increasing difficulties returning to the workforce. Indeed, the number of people unemployed for over half a year is now nearly 4 million, over triple that same number from a year ago, with unemployment among Black people at a staggering 10.3 percent. The jobless rate among white people is just 5.9 percent.

That same report, by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, showed that employment at bars and restaurants dropped by 17,400 nationwide, a marginal decline albeit the first contraction since the spring. That number is provisional and could be revised over the coming month, but it likely reflects the ongoing shutdowns plaguing the hospitality industry, with a variety of indoor or outdoor dining bans already in place throughout major U.S. cities, including Chicago and Los Angeles.

Hospitality jobs data for New York City, where overall unemployment is nearly twice the national rate, will come out later in December.

The November jobs report is certain to increase pressure on lawmakers to pick up the pace of stimulus talks. A bipartisan Senate proposal appears to be picking up steam, offering another round of Paycheck Protection Program loans for small businesses and $300-per-week unemployment aid for 18 weeks — half of the $600 benefit that lapsed in late July.

President-elect Joe Biden said on Wednesday that the stripped-down stimulus bill was only a “down payment” on a more comprehensive aid package to come. The bill, which leaves out the $120 billion in federal assistance that would have been directed to the hospitality industry under the HEROES Act, “really sucks for restaurants,” Eater’s Amy McCarthy wrote earlier this week.