West Virginia leisure and hospitality jobs, which were hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic, experienced an 18% employment uptick from June 2020 to June 2021.
The number of jobs in the sector grew from 62,800 to 68,000 between January and May of this year. The numbers dipped back down to 66,700 by June, a 1.9% decrease after a 7.6% increase from January to May. Those figures come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
From near the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in June 2020, however, the overall picture is solid. Leisure and hospitality jobs as a whole are up 10,200, or 18%. Within the federal Leisure and Hospitality umbrella, WorkForce West Virginia breaks out a subcategory known as Accommodation and Food Services.
Among food jobs in particular, from June 2020 to May 2021, the food workforce rose from 50,400 jobs to 58,400 jobs, a 16% increase. From May to June of this year, employment in the sector decreased by about 700 jobs, a 0.7% decrease.
Sean O’Leary, senior policy analyst at the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy, said the overall numbers portray a reality counter to the narrative that no one wants to work in those industries.
“Never before have we had such a rapid drop-off or such a rapid turnaround,” O’Leary said. “Everything opened up at once. We’ve only had a few months to right what was a major, major disruption to the labor market.”
COVID-19 vaccinations became available in late 2020 and didn’t really pick up distribution steam until February.
From June 2020 to June 2021, O’Leary points out, total nonfarm employment is up 21,500 jobs, or only 3.2%. West Virginia’s total unemployment rate continues to decline, from 15.6% in April 2020 to 5.3% in June of this year.
Still, employers complain they don’t have enough workers.
In a Gazette-Mail article earlier this month, Suzi’s Hamburgers owner Jim Cowie acknowledged that he had been offering $13.50 to $15 an hour for new hires, depending on how early they come to work. It is difficult to enter a convenience store or restaurant and not hear employers complain about a lack of help.
Nevertheless, O’Leary said someone has been filling jobs in that sector, as pointed out by the numbers.
“Maybe they’re not filling the jobs certain people want them to fill,” he said, “but they’re taking jobs somewhere.”