Restaurants shed more than 372,000 jobs in December after seven consecutive months of gains, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The BLS reported that food and drink places cut 17,400 jobs in November. However, in the December report, data was adjusted to show that restaurants gained 13,600 jobs in November.
Due to the adjustment, December marked the industry’s first decrease since losing roughly six million in March and April. In December, 9.8 million workers were on payroll compared to 12.2 million in the year-ago period. The recent decrease accounted for three-fourths of the total job loss in the leisure and hospitality category.
“The decline in payroll employment reflects the recent rise in the number of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases and increased efforts to contain the pandemic,” William W. Beach, commissioner of BLS, said in a statement.
The National Restaurant Association said in December that more than 110,000 restaurants, or 17 percent of the industry, have closed permanently or long-term since COVID his the U.S. On average, the brands were operating for 16 years, and 16 percent were open for at least 30 years.
The Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC) has repeatedly asked for aid in the form of the RESTAURANTS Act, which would provide $120 billion to independent locations and small-sized chains.
In late December, Congress passed a new $908 billion stimulus package, but opted instead for a revised Paycheck Protection Program—that has been criticized by many in the industry—and tax deductibility for business meals.
“New changes to the Paycheck Protection Program will be too little, too late for hundreds of thousands of people left without a paycheck this holiday season,” said the IRC in a statement. “The people who work in restaurants and bars are uniquely hurt by this pandemic, and don’t deserve it.”
“ … Restaurants, bakeries, bars, and coffee shops employ more non-white managers and young people than any other industry,” the organization continued. “Immigrants, a million single mothers, and the formerly incarcerated rely on restaurants and bars for their livelihood. We cannot leave these communities jobless. A direct relief plan like the RESTAURANTS Act is vital to ensure there are places to work when restaurants can fully reopen and rehire their teams.”
It remains to be seen whether the new governmental regime will move forward with specific plans to target the restaurant industry. By the end of the month, it is expected that Democrats—who have shown support for providing direct relief—will control the House of Representatives, Senate, and presidency.
The IRC said Congress hasn’t done enough to protect restaurant workers’ paychecks during the pandemic, but added the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and President-elect Joe Biden have all called for direct relief for independent restaurants and bars. In the fall, the House of Representatives passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus package that included the RESTAURANTS Act, but the bill died in the Senate, which is currently controlled by Republicans.
“We hope the new government acts swiftly on a plan to save restaurants,” the IRC said.
In the U.S. overall, 140,000 jobs were cut, and the unemployment rate remained at 6.7 percent. In total, 10.7 million are unemployed. Job losses in leisure and hospitality and in private education were partially offset by gains in professional and business services, retail trade, and construction.