The ongoing resurgence of COVID-19 infections and deaths virtually ensured that December would be a terrible month for hospitality job losses across the country, but New York City was hit particularly hard, according to a new state report.
Even as the overall unemployment rate improved to 11.4 percent throughout the five boroughs in December — a decrease of 0.7 percent from the previous month — bars and restaurants still shed 11,400 jobs, per the latest data released by the state labor department. That represents a 5.8 percent drop in hospitality employment over a single month, erasing any minimal gains the local industry had made since the late summer as its recovery sputtered.
COVID-19 restrictions on bars and restaurants throughout the country helped account for 372,000 job losses in December, or 3.6 percent of the nationwide industry, as Eater reported previously. Black women joined Latinx women and men, many of whom work in hospitality and retail, as among the groups that suffered some of the heaviest employment losses that month.
It appears that virtually all of the city’s December job losses came from full-service restaurants, according to the state. Those stats coincide with Gov. Andrew Cuomo imposing an indefinite ban on indoor dining throughout the city early last month, prompting scores of closures and so-called hibernations.
What’s even more sobering is that New York employed 140,700 fewer bar and restaurant workers in December than it did at the same time in 2019, meaning the industry’s workforce shrunk by 43 percent over a year’s time. Full-service restaurants have contracted even more drastically, dropping by over 55 percent.
The job losses will surely add weight to arguments calling for improved unemployment aid and targeted help for the restaurant industry. Former President Donald Trump signed a stimulus package that instituted a $300 per week jobless benefit just before the new year, a significant drop from last spring’s $600 weekly checks.
President Joe Biden, who took office earlier this week, has called on Congress to increase those weekly checks to $400, and to extend the benefit through the end of September. Currently, enhanced unemployment aid is scheduled to run out in mid-March, before a majority of Americans are slated to be vaccinated, and before the local restaurant industry is expected to bounce back in a serious way.
The Biden administration has stated its willingness to work with Congress to offer support to bars and restaurants, possibly through a U.S. Department of Agriculture funding program. So far, however, the president does not appear to have requested the type of concrete, multi-billion dollar financial assistance for the hospitality industry that, say, live-entertainment venues were the beneficiary of in the last round of Congressional stimulus.
Last fall, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed an updated version of the HEROES Act, which would have provided bars, restaurants, and food trucks with $120 billion in grant money through the so-called RESTAURANTS Act. The Senate, then led by a Republican majority, did not take that bill up for consideration.
Andrew Rigie, head of the New York Hospitality Alliance, a group that advocates on behalf of restaurants, bars, and night clubs, said in an emailed statement that the shedding of jobs should prompt Congress and the new administration to pass the RESTAURANTS Act. He also called upon Cuomo to “safely bring back regulated indoor dining like it’s permitted in the rest of New York State.”
Indoor dining is permitted throughout most of the state at 50 percent capacity. In the city, it was allowed at quarter-capacity until infections started ticking upward.