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Southern California ‘fun’ jobs hit record high in May

Southern California’s “fun” jobs hit a record high in May, one sign that the leisure and hospitality industry’s lethargic recovery from the pandemic era’s harsh losses is nearly complete.

My trusty spreadsheet, looking at fresh state jobs data, found local bosses in industries from dining to entertainment to lodging had a record 966,900 workers in May 2023. That’s up 14,400 for the month and up 52,900 over 12 months.

May marked the first time that the number of these fun jobs in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties were above February 2020 staffing, the last month before coronavirus upended the economy.

It’s been a slow and long rebound for the hospitality industry. Stiff pandemic business limitations in spring 2020 cut 421,700 jobs at leisure and hospitality businesses – a stunning 44% drop.

The leisure and hospitality hiring recovery trailed Southern California’s overall job market. The four counties’ total employment first surpassed pre-pandemic staffing in October 2022 – seven months earlier.

Uneven rebound

Hitting all-time high employment at Southern California businesses serving up fun, however, does not mean a level, across-the-board rebound.

For example, local fast food jobs hit a record 358,100 in May – up 4,100 for the month, up 12,100 over 12 months, and 19,200 higher in the pandemic era. At the coronavirus low, 78,800 fast food jobs were lost – a 23% drop.

One key to fast food’s business success is that quick-serve meals became even more popular during the pandemic. Many diners sought meals without the crowds of indoor dining. Meanwhile, others relished fast food take-out services and delivered meals.

Conversely, sit-down dining’s rebound has been slower with 293,800 people workers in May – up 3,500 for the month and up 10,700 over 12 months – but still 5,700 lower in the pandemic era. At the worst, 195,300 full-service restaurant jobs were lost, a 65% drop tied to dining restrictions and some diner reluctance to be at any inside business.

These mixed recoveries for dining out translates to fast food accounting for 55% of restaurant workers in May vs. 53% at the pandemic’s eve in February 2020.

Also slow to recover are hotel jobs.

Southern California lodging businesses employed 84,700 workers in May – up 1,500 for the month, up 5,700 over 12 months,  but 12,200 lower in the pandemic era. At the worst, 56,300 jobs were lost, a 58% drop.

Numerous hotels have not reopened after pandemic shutdowns. And while much of tourism is booming, some hotels suffer as business travel has yet to rebound to pre-pandemic levels.

However, look at work in arts, entertainment and recreation businesses. These jobs also hit a record in May at 182,400 – up 2,600 for the month, up 20,000 over 12 months, and 7,500 higher in the pandemic era. At the worst, 102,300 jobs were lost, a 58% drop.

Consumer desires for leisurely activities of all sorts have zoomed as coronavirus fears have died out – a huge boost to these businesses.

Geographically speaking

This fun revival, at least looking at job counts, has been relatively level across the region …

Los Angeles County: 554,200 fun jobs – up 11,600 for the month, up 41,300 over 12 months, and a 6,600 gain in the pandemic era. Fun facts: Leisure labor is 11.9% of all jobs and fast food employs 53% of restaurant workers.

Orange County: 231,100 fun jobs – up 2,000 for the month, up 13,100 over 12 months, and a 5,300 gain in the pandemic era. Fun facts: Leisure labor is 13.5% of all jobs and fast food employs 52% of restaurant workers.

Inland Empire: 181,600 fun jobs – up 800 for the month, off -1,500 over 12 months, and a 2,500 gain in the pandemic era. Fun facts: Leisure labor is 10.8% of all jobs and fast food employs 62% of restaurant workers.

By the way, May’s hiring spree extended across all industries in the region. A record 8.04 million Southern Californians were on the job in May – up 24,100 jobs in a month, up 160,000 in 12 months, and 145,800 higher in the pandemic era.

Jonathan Lansner is the business columnist for the Southern California News Group. He can be reached at

Source: Orange County Register

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