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When a jobs report adds up to nothing

Chairs are stacked at a closed cafe in New York.

Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images

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How many jobs were created in the leisure and hospitality industries last month? The estimate is: zero. As in, not a single job was created in that entire category last month. After increasing by an average of 350,000 per month over the prior six months.

Jobs numbers come from something called “the establishment survey.” The Bureau of Labor Statistics asks a sample of employers how many people they have on payroll and tracks that, month to month. Hospitality and leisure, a big industry, is divided into smaller chunks. The biggest of those chunks is called “food services and drinking places.” 

“The last ‘drinking place’ that I went to … it’s been awhile,” said Joe Song, an economist at Bank of America. Song, like many others, hasn’t visited a drinking place outside his living room since Delta showed up. 

Which is why “food services and drinking places were down 41,000,” said Song.

In fact, 41,500 fewer line cooks, waiters and hostesses. Song says more workers are probably getting laid off than quitting. Either way, we’re in the negative. What’s on the plus side? 

“We actually did see a fairly decent pickup in an industry called amusements, gambling and recreation,” said Nick Bunker, an economist with the job site Indeed.

The leisure side of hospitality and leisure picked up 30,000 jobs in August: take casino workers, or those teenagers you reluctantly trust to strap you in on a Six Flags rollercoaster. It’s a weird circle to square. People willing to go to Disneyland, but not the restaurant down the street? 

“There may be lots more people saying ‘I definitely need to take a vacation this summer.’ Maybe people who didn’t change their plans according to that,” Bunker said.

Hospitality and leisure businesses may have trouble finding workers even after delta subsides, according to Elise Gould with the Economic Policy Institute. “In the before times, these were not great jobs. These were lower-paying jobs, you often didn’t get enough hours, maybe you were scheduled at the last minute,” said Gould, who added that a non-zero increase in the minimum wage would help. 

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