Almost four in 10 of all the U.S. jobs lost since February of last year are have been in the leisure and hospitality industry, according to the latest Employment Situation Summary from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The 39 percent of jobs lost is triple the number of the next-hardest-hit industry.

The 49,000 jobs created by the U.S. economy in January were viewed by economists, according to MarketWatch, as a disappointment and a major sign of lingering pandemic-related stress in labor markets. But according to analysis created for the U.S. Travel Association by the research firm Tourism Economics, the “real” underlying story is the 61,000 jobs lost by the leisure and hospitality sector last month. The U.S. would have gained 110,000 jobs overall without the decline in this field. January marked the second month in a row that the leisure and hospitality sector lost jobs despite overall U.S. employment gains.

Other numbers underscore the particularly dire situation of leisure and hospitality compared to the rest of the U.S. jobs economy:

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  • The 23 percent of leisure and hospitality jobs lost since February 2020 is nearly double the industry with the next-worst job loss rate (mining and logging; 12 percent)
  • Leisure and hospitality’s 39 percent share of all U.S. unemployment is three times that of the industry with the second-biggest share (government; 13 percent)
  • The 16 percent current unemployment rate in leisure and hospitality is almost three times the overall U.S. unemployment rate (6 percent)

“The math is pretty easy: the U.S. economy won’t get back on track until the leisure and hospitality sector is back on track, and that’s going to take aggressive policy actions,” said U.S. Travel Association president and CEO Roger Dow in a statement. “Safely restarting travel needs to become a national priority, which means not only relief measures but pressing ahead on vaccinations and continuing to emphasize best health practices.”

U.S. Travel has shared with Congress and the Biden Administration its relief priorities and recovery strategies to help accelerate the onset of a travel recovery. Among them: 

  • Extend and enhance the Paycheck Protection Program to provide a third draw for businesses that continue to face difficulties due to COVID-19
  • Provide grants for hard-hit sectors within the travel industry
  • Provide $2.25 billion in U.S. Economic Development Administration grants to promote safe and healthy travel practices
  • Provide $17 billion in additional relief for commercial airports and airport concessionaires

Additional recovery strategies will be needed to shorten the industry’s recovery period

The industry had been one of the bright spots in the Illinois economy but COVID-19 and state-mandated mitigation efforts have decimated it.

Last year was the worst year for jobs in Illinois’ history and no sector of the economy was hit harder by COVID-19 and state-mandated mitigation measures than the leisure and hospitality industry.

In Illinois the industry lost 40% more jobs during 2020 than the nation as a whole. Broader analysis revealed the industry lagged the nation even before the pandemic.

Nationally, and within Illinois, the leisure and hospitality sector grew employment faster than nearly any other. However, the gap between sector employment growth in Illinois and the rest of the nation widened during the past two decades.

From the end of 1999 through the end of 2019, the U.S. leisure and hospitality industry grew employment by 43.4%. Illinois’ leisure and hospitality industry grew employment by only 29%. The national economy added leisure and hospitality jobs at a 50% faster rate than in Illinois.

Illinois’ leisure and hospitality industry did grow substantially faster than in other Midwestern states, with nearly all of the job gains coming from the Chicago metropolitan area. Those jobs were likely driven by growth in tourism.

This was welcome news because other sectors of Illinois’ economy lagged among Midwestern states, leading to significant underperformance in total job growth during the past two decades. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic and state-mandated lockdowns ravaged the state’s economy.

From December 2019 to December 2020, Illinois lost 198,100 (-31.7%) leisure and hospitality jobs, the third worst in the Midwest, behind only Minnesota and Michigan.

Unsurprisingly, the Midwest states that performed among the worst for leisure and hospitality employment were the states that still have the most severe mitigation protocols. Likewise, states that have less severe restrictions have seen significantly smaller drops in leisure and hospitality employment.

There may be some hope for Illinois’ immediate recovery of the leisure and hospitality industry, with COVID-19 vaccines being dispersed and indoor dining resuming statewide. Still, Illinois has a painful economic recovery ahead and will need to reform impediments to the economy that were causing jobs to lag the rest of the nation prior to the pandemic.

Unfortunately for already-struggling Illinoisans, rather than pursuing spending reforms, Gov. J.B. Pritzker is continuing to pursue new taxes. While the governor has, at least for the coming year, given up hopes of raising the state’s income tax, he is now promoting closing $932 million in “loopholes” to raise more revenue. The move was decried by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and Republicans because Pritzker is not closing unfair “loopholes,” but rather trying to take back a deal he made early in his term for key tax incentives and deductions intended to create jobs.

Pritzker recently failed to get the lame duck legislature to cancel a pandemic recovery tax credit for small businesses that would have taken from $500 million to $1 billion more from them as they struggle. Pritzker has vowed to pursue the money again in

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