The Oregon Employment Department reported that accommodation and food services are employing nearly as many people as they were pre-pandemic in seasonally adjusted models. Deschutes County added 2,140 jobs total in December, and unemployment dropped to 4.3%, just 1% above a record-setting 3.3% low before the pandemic.
The leisure and hospitality sector is up from 2019 levels in the most recent monthly estimate, after being devastated during the initial surge of COVID-19 and again when the Delta variant started to spread.
"The industry lost a little momentum last winter with another wave of the virus but quickly rebounded again in the spring and summer of 2021. The most recent monthly estimate for Deschutes County's accommodation and food services in November 2021 has employment levels up 2% above 2019 levels," Damon Runberg, a regional economist for the Oregon Employment Department, wrote in a press release.
The numbers may indicate a change in consumer preferences as they adapted to the pandemic. Food carts grew by more than 120% compared to pre-pandemic numbers, from 101 jobs to 185. Full-service restaurants are still trending below pre-pandemic levels by about 600 jobs or 12.7%.
“The total number of job ads in the accommodation and food services industry are up 96% from pre-COVID levels, yet employment is only down around 5%. This is a good sign that businesses are hiring, but they are trying to do it at a much faster pace than the labor force is growing.”—Damon Rundbergtweet this
"This makes sense with fewer people wanting to eat indoors. We also see that coffee shops have done well too (snack and nonalcoholic beverages). Bars and other drinking places are basically back to pre-pandemic levels," Runberg said.
The numbers seem at odds with how hard it is for restaurants to return to full employment. Quit rates for the leisure and hospitality industry remained above 5% from July to November, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. November tied with September for a record-breaking quit rate of 3%.
"The total number of job ads in the accommodation and food services industry are up 96% from pre-COVID levels, yet employment is only down around 5%. This is a good sign that businesses are hiring, but they are trying to do it at a much faster pace than the labor force is growing," Runberg said. "These elevated levels of hiring demand give significant hope for a full employment recovery in 2022 but also means we will likely continue to see a very tight labor market in this sector."
Monthly employment estimates can be tricky and more detailed reports based on payroll tax records will eventually give a more precise measure of employment in Central Oregon.
"If instead we focused on the lagging but far more accurate payroll tax records, we see that the recovery may be running just a little slower than initially estimated through September 2021," Runberg said. "These recently released payroll records reveal that restaurant and hotel employment was running around 5% below 2019 levels as of September, whereas those monthly estimates through September were showing employment levels down only 3.7%."