Employment in the hospitality and the arts and entertainment industries is down 30-40 percent in the year since the COVID-19 pandemic prompted statewide restrictions on indoor dining and crowd gatherings, the head of the state’s Independent Fiscal Office told lawmakers Tuesday.
The number of people employed across the entire economy in the state is only down about 7 percent from the pre-pandemic numbers, said Matthew Knittel, director of the IFO, saying there is a “disconnect” between the way the shutdowns hammered the hospitality and arts and entertainment industries and the way it impacted other employers.
“I knew it would be bad, I didn’t think it would be this bad,” said Mario Scavello, R-Monroe County, the chairman of the Senate majority policy committee, which was holding a hearing on the pandemic’s impact on the tourism and hospitality industries.
There were 115,000 fewer people working in hotels and restaurants in February than there were 12 months earlier, Knittel said.
The arts and entertainment industry -- which includes bowling alleys, theaters and casinos -- lost 30,000 jobs over the same period, he said.
The only major exception was fast-food restaurants, which were able to continue operating with drive-thru and takeout service, he said. Employment in full-service restaurants was down 30 percent but employment in fast-food restaurants was only down 7 percent, he said.
Fritz Smith, President and CEO of the Happy Valley Visitors Bureau told the panel that Centre County hotel room revenue was down “a staggering 71.6 percent over the past year, reflecting a revenue loss of nearly $60 million.”
Smith said that “at the height of the pandemic” 1,600 hospitality workers in Centre County were out of work, but even now, the region is still down about 1,000 hospitality jobs even as employers have begun trying to rehire.
Smith and others said that many businesses are now finding it difficult to lure back workers or fill vacancies.
Robert Carl, president and CEO of the Schuylkill County Chamber of Commerce, said that federal stimulus boosts to unemployment are discouraging people from returning to work.
“They are not interested in coming back,” he said.
Thomas Baldrige, President & CEO of the Lancaster County Chamber, said that there are likely other factors at play, as well.
For instance, he said that parents of children in school may find it difficult to return to work if schools are closed to in-person instruction. Finding and affording child care is a problem that “disproportionately impacts hospitality industry” workers, he said.
Around the same time the Senate Republicans were holding their hearing, Gov. Tom Wolf was touting his record in a speech for a conference of Small Business Development Centers.
Wolf said the state has tried to help small businesses — and those in the restaurant industry, in particular — repeatedly since the pandemic hit.
That included providing $192 million in grants to 10,000 businesses last summer, as well as another $145 million in aid for restaurants that was approved by the General Assembly early in 2021.
Wolf said he’d first proposed the most recent round of restaurant aid then welcomed the move by the General Assembly to actually authorize the spending.
“It’s really important,” he said. “Through no fault of their own, businesses in this industry, the hospitality industry, have been especially hard hit. They need and deserve our help,” Wolf said.