Of the staggering 701,000 American jobs lost in March, the majority came from restaurants and bars, according to a U.S. Department of Labor Statistics monthly report released Friday. Americans lost about 417,000 jobs in food service and drinking places, roughly 60 percent of the month’s total losses.
Up until the COVID-19 pandemic closed bars and restaurants across the country, 15.6 million people worked at about one million restaurants in the United States, according to numbers from the National Restaurant Association. And before the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted service, the hospitality sector was growing quickly. But “this employment decline nearly offsets gains over the previous two years,” the Bureau of Labor statistics reports. The National Restaurant Association now expects to see between 5 and 7 million hospitality service workers lose their jobs in the next three months — numbers that the Bureau of Labor Statistics report begins to corroborate.
Out-of-work cooks, bartenders, servers, and dishwashers are expected to rely on unemployment checks — but even the most generous benefits are unlikely to cover workers completely. And actually getting unemployment will be an added challenge. State unemployment websites and phone lines have been slammed with claims, and undocumented workers — who made up at least 20 percent of cooks and 28 percent of dishwashers in a 2008 Pew Hispanic study — won’t be eligible at all.
Of course, restaurants and bars weren’t the only employers to lay off workers in March. Health care and social assistance, professional and business services, retail trade, and construction were also heavily affected areas. March’s unemployment rate increase, 0.9 percent to 4.4 percent, was the sharpest uptick since 1975. The number of unemployed Americans is now 7.1 million.