Leisure and hospitality may finally be on the road to recovery.
The industry added 355,000 jobs in February, as coronavirus restrictions began easing in some parts of the country amid the rollout of a national vaccine campaign.
The vaccine news is a welcome shot in the arm for the economy: There were 379,000 jobs added last month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, beating the predictions of labor experts.
“The jobs picture is brighter than expected,” said Mike Fratantoni, chief economist at the Mortgage Bankers Association. “We have been expecting a burst of activity from pent-up demand. This may be the first sign of that increase.”
Restaurants and bars accounted for a majority of the gains in February — 286,000 jobs — while hotels added back 36,000 positions. The growth follows a dismal January and December, when more than 550,000 industry jobs were lost.
Share prices of lodging companies have largely returned to pre-pandemic levels, ahead of an anticipated spike in demand for leisure trips once Covid travel restrictions are eased.
Still, employment in leisure and hospitality remains 3.5 million jobs below pre-pandemic levels. Overall, 9.5 million fewer people are employed than at the same time last year.
Retail also had a strong showing last month, adding 41,000 jobs, the majority of which were at general merchandise stores like Target, which is looking to expand. That growth, however, was offset by a loss of 20,000 jobs at clothing and accessory retailers, according to the agency.
There’s also some indication that more workers are heading back to their offices: 22.7 percent of employees were working from home in February, a slight dip from 23.2 percent in January. Office landlords are increasingly offering perks to workers who return, although tenant vacancies may continue to rise through 2024.