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New York City’s Reopening Spurs Hiring Push

As New York City reawakens from the deep slump set off by the sudden lockdown in March 2020, businesses of all sorts are reopening and hiring back workers, many of whom were laid off more than a year ago when the pandemic struck.

The rebound has been building for a few months, according to data from the New York State Labor Department, which reported on Thursday that New York City’s official unemployment rate declined slightly to 11.4 percent in April, from 11.7 percent in March.

One of the clearest signals of recovery came from restaurants, which added 15,000 jobs last month. The city’s full-service restaurants had three times as many employees last month as they had in April 2020, their lowest point.

“For the restaurants, we have two very strong forces at work,” said Barbara Byrne Denham, senior economist at Oxford Economics. “Most of them are allowed to reopen, and many people are very eager to eat out.”

With the April gains, New York has added back about 375,000 of the jobs it lost last spring, or about 40 percent of the total. Economists forecast that it will take at least a couple of years to gain back the balance of those lost jobs — still more than a half million.

But with most pandemic restrictions lifted, officials believe the city will start gaining economic steam.

Still, New York has a long road back to the flush conditions that preceded the pandemic. Before the city went into the abrupt lockdown that closed most businesses, its economy had been on a decade-long expansion that produced more jobs and lower unemployment than at any time on record.

The city’s official unemployment rate had held below 4 percent for 11 consecutive months, and wages had been rising at a robust rate for several years. Then seemingly overnight, the booming metropolis fell silent as legions of workers were sent home to ride out the spreading pandemic.

In just two months last spring, more than 900,000 of the city’s jobs disappeared, wiping out nearly all of the employment gains racked up during a record-length expansion that started in 2009. The city’s official unemployment rate spiked to a high of 20 percent in May, one of the highest of any city in the country.

The pandemic dealt an outsize blow to New York and its tourist-dependent businesses, including museums, theaters and hotels. With international and business travel still stalled, many businesses in those sectors have not reopened or rehired many workers.

“New York City has trailed the rest of the U.S. every single month on every single measure,” Ms. Denham said. The city lost more jobs and a higher share of its jobs than any other city did, and only Las Vegas has recovered more slowly than New York, she said.

James Parrott, an economist with the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School, said he did not foresee a full jobs recovery until the end of 2023 or sometime in 2024.

Mr. Parrott described the city’s job gains in April as “a relatively strong rebound” compared with the “lackluster national job growth in April.”

The federal Department of Labor reported that the nation added just 266,000 jobs last month, an increase of about 0.2 percent that fell far short of expectations and led to calls for an early end to the extra weekly benefits the Biden administration has made available to the unemployed.

Among the newest signs of revival, Mr. Parrott said, were a gain of 5,100 jobs last month in the arts and entertainment sector, half of which came from the performing arts. A few theaters in the city have begun staging performances for live audiences. But Broadway shows are not scheduled to reopen until after Labor Day.

Another bright spot, Mr. Parrott said, was that employment was on the rise in construction and building services, signaling that commercial landlords were preparing for more workers to return to their offices.

Elena Volovelsky, a labor market analyst for the state Department of Labor, said the rate of recovery in New York City still lagged the national and statewide paces. In the past year, the city’s job growth rate was about 12 percent, compared with 13.3 percent for the nation and 15.5 percent for New York State.

In the next few months, the recovery of jobs in hotels and other business that cater to tourists could become more robust, Ms. Volovelsky said. Hotel employment has yet to rebound and remains weak, having lost about 37,000 jobs since last year, she said.

In an effort to spur more people to book rooms in the city, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Wednesday that, for the summer months, the city would waive the 5.875 percent tax it adds to most hotel bills.

“With the lifting of most restrictions,’’ Ms. Volovelsky said, “I expect that employment will finally pick up at hotels as well.”

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