Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

There’s no doubt that the American jobs market has suffered an out-and-out disaster since it got hit by the CCP Virus and the follow-on lockdowns and other restrictions. There’s also no doubt that many workers and their families are still suffering greatly, and will need government aid to make it to the Other Side, and the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan legislation that the President will likely sign into law soon will help fill this gap.

Plenty of doubt remains, however, about whether all, or close to all, of the massive funds approved in this measure are actually needed to cure the economy’s remaining employment woes, and one of the main reasons is the nature of the jobs blow that’s been delivered. Because it’s been so heavily concentrated in the country’s leisure and hospitality industries (encompassing eateries and drinking places of all kinds, plus hotels and motels, and entertainment and cultural venues), it’s entirely possible that nowadays, the most effective way to fix the jobs market fastest would be to lift the lockdowns and other mandated curbs that have fallen so hard on sectors that depend on serving in-person customers.

The case for relying on a virus-relief/stimulus package this big, at this stage of the economy’s recovery from its pandemic-induced recession, has been eloquently stated by President Biden and by Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell. The former warned just before the legislation passed that the U.S. economy “still has 9.5 million fewer jobs than it had this time last year. And at that rate, it would take two years to get us back on track.”

The latter has stated that he won’t be satisfied that full employment has returned until he sees what one reporter has called “broad-based gains in employment, and not just in the aggregate or at the median.” As a result, the Fed Chair is paying particular attention to (the reporter’s words again) “Black unemployment, wage growth for low-wage workers and labor force participation for those without college degrees, categories that historically have taken longer to recover from downturns than broader metrics.”

But it’s precisely these less fortunate portions of the workforce that would be helped disproportionately – and then some – by focusing on reopening steps that would surely affect the leisure and hospitality industries just as disproportionately.

If you doubt the importance of leisure and hospitality job loss over the last year in terms of overall U.S. jobs loss, here’s what you need to know. Of the 8.068 million positions shed by the country’s private sector between last Februrary (the final month of pre-CCP Virus normality for the American economy), fully 3.451 million have come in the leisure and hospitality industries. That’s nearly 43 percent.

Put differently, during that final normal economic month, leisure and hospitality workers represented just 13.04 percent of all private sector workers. Yet their employment plunge was more than three times as great relatively speaking.

Moreover, leisure and hospitality’s progress in getting back to pre-pandemic square one has been slower than that of the private sector overall. Since the April employment trough, leisure and hospitality has regained 4.955 million of the 8.224 million jobs lost during the worst of the pandemic, or 60.25 percent. For the private sector in toto, 13.267 million of the 21.353 million jobs lost in March and April have come back since – 62.13 percent.

It’s also clear that many of the kinds of workers about which Fed Chair Powell has been most concerned are concentrated in leisure and hospitality. For example, in 2019, (America’s last pre-CCP Virus full year), 13.1 percent of these sectors’ workers were African American versus 12.3 percent for the entire U.S. economy (including government workers at all levels), and 24 percent were Hispanic or Latino versus 17.6 percent for the entire economy.

Leisure and hospitality companies tend to employ Americans with low levels of formal education, too. According to the Labor Department, in 2019, 79.9 percent of the nation’s “first-line supervisors of house-keeping and janitorial workers” 25 years and older lack even an associate’s degree, and 76 percent of their food preparation and service counterparts fall into this category. The shares are even higher for the workers they supervise. Meanwhile, only 51.5 percent of all U.S. workers haven’t taken their education beyond high school.

Not surprisingly, therefore, leisure and hositality jobs pay poorly. In February, 2020, just before the arrivals of the pandemic and the lockdowns, their average hourly wages were only 59.28 percent those of all private sector workers. Last month, this figure had fallen to 57.58 percent. (See Table B-3 here.) 

For most of the pandemic period, the U.S. government at all levels pursued a mitigation strategy that aimed mainly at curbing economic and other forms of human activity across-the-board. Now, even with vaccinations and growing population-wide immunity showing strong signs of bringing the pandemic under control, the Biden administration and the Democratic Congress are just as determined to stimulate the economy that’s still significantly shut down by with an American Rescue Plan that seems just as indiscriminate.

As I’ve been writing (see, e.g., here), it should have been clear since late last spring that the anti-virus fight would have much more effective (and less harmful to the economy and other dimensions of public health) had it targeted protecting especially vulnerable populations. I strongly suspect that, with the fullness of time, it will become just as clear that a stimulus and jobs strategy emphasizing accelerating reopening, and thus aiding sectors and workers hardest hit by the remaining shutdowns, will prove a much more effective employment cure than the indiscriminate spending approach on which Washington has just doubled down.