As the successful vaccine rollout sparked a wave of optimism in the United States over the past few weeks, Federal Reserve chairman Jerome H. Powell said that the U.S. economy has "brightened substantially", while also warning that the crisis isn't over yet. In an interview with "60 Minutes" aired in Sunday, Powell said that the economy is "at an inflection point", poised for growth with the lingering risk of another rise in COVID-19 infections.
Mirroring his optimism, the latest jobs report showed encouraging signs of recovery, as the U.S. economy added 916,000 jobs in March, exceeding expectations. The leisure and hospitality sector led the job gains, adding 280,000 payrolls, with restaurants and drinking places accounting for the lion’s share of that total (+175,800). As several states eased restrictions and the vaccine rollout continued, many Americans dipped their toes back into normal life, enjoying a meal or a drink outside after months of withdrawal.
Despite the latest upward trend, the leisure and hospitality sector remains the most heavily affected by the pandemic-induced jobs crisis. According to the BLS’ latest Employment Situation Summary, the number of jobs in leisure and hospitality still trails pre-pandemic levels by 3.1 million.
As the following chart shows, the jobs recovery in general is going slower than many people had originally hoped. After a quick initial rebound, job gains slowed to a crawl in late 2020 before picking up pace again in 2021. In March 2021, 12 months into the pandemic, total nonfarm employment was still 8.4 million jobs short of February 2020 levels.