And some of those hardest-hit sectors and industries are still trying to claw out of very deep holes.
“There are a number of industries that are certainly lagging or have quite a ways to go,” Sarah House, a senior economist for Wells Fargo, told CNN Business.
February 2020: 144,200 jobs
May 2021: 53,300 jobs (-63%)
People love a good comeback story, and the nation’s movie houses are in need of one.
Many of those jobs have yet to return. As of May 2021, employment in the industry remains 63%, or 91,000 jobs, below where it entered the pandemic.
“I think this was an industry that everyone thought was going to go away, that the pandemic was going to kill the movie theater,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with Comscore.
Then came the plot twist:
“And it just hasn’t happened,” he said.
February 2020: 107,900 jobs
May 2021: 47,100 jobs (-56%)
The buffet business was left absolutely battered.
From March 10, 2020, to July 9, 2021, about 30% of the 2,239 buffet restaurants tracked by food industry analytics firm Datassential have closed permanently. That’s compared to 12.6% of the 793,244 restaurants Datassential tracks, said Mark Brandau, the firm’s group manager.
“Buffets were probably one of the more vulnerable places,” said David Henkes, senior principal and head of strategic partnerships for Technomic, a Chicago-based foodservice research and consulting firm. “There have been struggles that the sector has had well before the pandemic.”
February 2020: 36,800 jobs
May 2021: 18,200 (-51%)
Then Covid-19 hit.
“Imagine your car running at 100 miles per hour, and you lock your brakes up,” said Alexander, who also serves as the president of the National Limousine Association.
In April 2020, NLA member businesses reported a 90% drop in revenue, Alexander said. In the weeks and months that followed, Alexander helped members cut costs, while RMA did the same: It was forced to reduce its 1,400-person workforce by 80%; the company more than halved its 900-vehicle fleet.
“It stunk,” Alexander said. “It really stunk. We had a lot of people we really cared a lot about.”
The increase in vaccinations, easing of restrictions and return to travel bode well for the private transportation industry. Now it comes down to building businesses back up to meet demand, he said.
“We see that travel is coming back with a vengeance, and we need to start scaling for that,” he said. “But you can’t just wave your wand and have these [employees] come back.”
Many employees who were laid off went to work for ridesharing companies, took delivery jobs, or left the industry entirely, he said.
RMA has raised wages. Other companies such as A-National Limousine in Atlanta, Georgia, have offered signing bonuses and started paying recruiters, said Darrell Anderson, the company’s president.
“It’s tough getting back to the staffing levels, even though we have the work,” Anderson said.
Performing arts theaters and dance companies
February 2020: 97,500 jobs
May 2021: 50,000 (-49%)
When the theater stages went dark and the concert halls fell silent, they were glaring indicators that an economic engine would soon start to sputter.
“Everything in the economy plays off of each other, and this looked more like a natural disaster,” said Michael Seman, assistant professor at Colorado State University’s Arts Management school and a co-author of the Brookings report. “This was Katrina happening everywhere all at once for an indeterminate length of time.”
Most of those jobs still are slow to come back. As of May 2021, jobs in theater and dance were down 49% from where they were in February 2020, according to BLS data. And through the second quarter of 2021, when there was a 5.4% overall unemployment rate, 35.5% of actors, 27.9% of dancers and choreographers, and 13.5% of musicians were unemployed, according to data from the National Endowment for the Arts’ Research & Analysis office.
Book stores and news dealers
February 2020: 81,000 jobs
May 2021: 41,600, [-49%]
In April 2019, revenue at the nation’s book stores totaled $650 million, according to US Census Bureau data, which do not include pure-play online retailers or companies with distribution centers for online products. Those sales fell to $169 million in April 2020.
In June 2020, a member survey had the American Booksellers Association — the trade group that represents about 1,800 indie book stores — worried that one-quarter of those booksellers could go out of business, CEO Allison Hill said.
That wasn’t the case.
Since the pandemic, 74 of ABA members closed permanently while another 82 opened, she said.
“There are a lot of changes, a lot of fluidity,” she said. “I think the pandemic disrupted everything, and so people are experimenting more.”
She’s seen an increase in non-traditional store models, more pop-ups, more mobile operators. Member businesses also have grown more nimble — cutting hours, reducing staffing — to ease costs, she said.
That being said, challenges remain throughout the industry. Businesses already on thin margins are running into the red and running out of cash, she said.
“You finally get over the mountain, now there’s a river to cross,” she said.
In Tucson, Arizona, Antigone Books, canceled all events indefinitely and had to “majorly scale back all of our operations,” co-owner Kate Stern told CNN Business. The shop reduced staffing, limited operating hours and pivoted to focus more on online sales.
“[Offering online sales] is a cool thing, but not only do we have an additional business to run, we’re not really set up to do a large-scale online business,” she said. “We just computerized two years ago and were on Rolodexes until then.”
2020 was a rough year, but Stern and her co-owners have an optimistic outlook. Now the business is starting to rehire.
“It’s going to take a while to get a very steady staff in place where we can start doing events and programs again,” she said.