Hospitality-leisure industry declines driving Md.’s soaring jobless rate

Maryland’s unemployment rate tripled in one month, driven by responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a preliminary report released by the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Hardest hit was the hospitality and leisure industry — hotels, restaurants and casinos — which reported losing more than one in every three jobs lost during the two months of the pandemic in the state. In all, the sector showed a decline of 120,000 jobs in April compared to March and more than 137,000 jobs compared to February 2020.

Amy Rohrer, president and CEO of the Maryland Hotel Lodging Association, said the numbers were not surprising.

“This has been devastating for the hotel and tourism industry, both in Maryland and around the country,” said Rohrer.

While hotels have not been closed under a statewide order, some local jurisdictions have issued their own restrictions. All have been limited by state restrictions on the number of people who can gather.

“Hotels are barely hanging on,” said Rohrer, noting that while some have continued to operate at significantly reduced staff levels, others have closed temporarily. Others are considering closing even as Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer and the related tourism season.

Rohrer said she feared some hotels that close may never reopen.

Restaurants have been limited to takeout service only for nearly two months. During that time the state’s six casinos have been dark.

Rohrer said she would like to see restaurants be able to have some outdoor seating.

In March, the Maryland Hotel and Tourism Association projected that more than 13,000 hotel employees, about 44 percent of the total workforce, would lose their jobs as a result of the response to COVID-19. More than 42,000 additional jobs indirectly tied to the hotel industry are also likely to be lost, according to a national study released by the America Association.

Those numbers alone exceed peak first-time claims  during the Great Recession, when Maryland’s highest numbers of new claims didn’t exceed 12,600 in a week. By comparison, in early March the number of first-time unemployment claims in Maryland was 2,675, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

“It’s mind-boggling and what we hoped would not happen,” Rohrer said. “The worst part of it is that it’s still going to get worse.”

Other sectors were also severely affected by the outbreak.

The education and health sector reported losing more than 51,400 jobs in April compared to March.

The trade, transportation and utilities sector reported more than 55,000 jobs lost in April

Professional and business services also reported nearly 41,000 fewer jobs during the same period and a total decline of nearly 46,000 since February.

The construction and manufacturing sectors lost 14,600 and 14,400 jobs, respectively, last month, according to the report.

In April, 349,300 people lost their jobs, driving the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate to 9.9%. In March, as the state was entering its response to the virus, the rate was 3.3%, according to the preliminary federal report.

The number of jobs lost in April represents a 12.6% decline from the 2,766,300 people who reported being employed in the state the month before and a 12.7% decline compared to the same time last year, according to the report.

Nationally, the unemployment rate reached 14.7%, an increase of 10.3 percentage points over March and more than 11% compared to the same time the year before.

Every state in the country and the District of Columbia reported jobless rate increases compare to the previous year.

Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency on March 5 as the state reported its first three cases of the virus. Most businesses have been closed for nearly two months as the governor ramped up efforts to contain the spread.

On Thursday, the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation reported 51,108 people filed first-time unemployment claims for the week ending May 16. The new claims brought the total number of people filing claims to 607,788 in the last nine weeks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The claims are more than 14,000 fewer than the previous week but still more than four times higher than the largest number of claims filed during any week of the great recession.

Maryland moved into phase one of the governor’s plan to reopen a week ago.

Under that plan, the governor lifted a “stay-at-home order” and replaced it with a “safer-at-home” advisory. Retail stores were allowed to be open to 50% capacity, with masking and distancing measures. Manufacturing also was allowed to resume, with measures in place to protect workers.

Personal services such as barber shops now can operate at 50% of capacity, and religious services can resume, with outdoor services strongly encouraged.

Not eased were requirements for wearing masks in stores and other retail establishments and on public transportation. Hogan said those practices must remain and called on the public to continue to observe social distancing measures as well as to frequently wash hands and disinfect high-touch surfaces.

Some areas that remain hard-hit, including Prince George’s and Montgomery counties and Baltimore city, have left stricter limits in place.


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