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The U.S. Has Regained All of Its Lost COVID-Era Jobs — But NYC Hasn’t

Local unemployment remains over 6%, with fewer jobs than existed in February 2020.

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A retail space sat vacant in the Flatiron section of Manhattan, Aug. 2, 2022.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Here is your August economic recovery update from THE CITY. We publish a new analysis of the city’s employment, job and fiscal indicators each month. 

Job Recovery in NYC Continues to Lag

July was a watershed month for the nation, as the U.S. finally regained all the jobs lost in the COVID recession, with a monthly increase of more than half a million positions — far more than expected.

The increase in employment in New York City was more modest, according to data from the New York State Labor Department released Thursday, with the addition of 22,000 jobs. New York City has regained only 82% of the jobs lost in the pandemic and remains 176,000 jobs below the pre-pandemic record.

July’s numbers may be distorted by seasonal events, including Mayor Eric Adams’ large expansion of the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program, which led to a surge in local government jobs, and gains on Wall Street, which may reflect summer internship programs. Restaurants and hotels also added workers, although the transportation sector lost jobs.

Women’s Jobless Rate Falls

The overall city unemployment rate of 6.1% remains almost double the national rate of 3.5% — but that masks a story about gender. 

In the second quarter of 2022, unemployment fell sharply for New York City women, to 5.4%, while it rose for men to 7.1%, according to new research from James Parrott, an economist at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs.

By two other crucial measures, women have either matched or surpassed pre-pandemic employment levels. Their labor force participation rate increased to 55.8% and the employment rate reached 52.7%.

Parrott says women may be returning to work because of falling COVID infection rates and improved access to child care. But he also suggests that rising inflation and the end to the expanded child tax credit may have created financial pressures that forced women to find jobs.

Meanwhile, the yawning gap between Black and white unemployment, an issue spotlighted by THE CITY in February, remains stubbornly wide. In the April to June quarter, the local Black jobless rate was 10.8% while the white rate was 3.2%.

Office Occupancy Slips

Office occupancy has declined below 40% as the summer vacation season reaches its peak. MTA Chair Janno Lieber said this week that the MTA’s ridership decline — subway and bus ridership in the city is about 60% of pre pandemic numbers — is primarily the result of remote work and not fears of crime. He noted that ridership is higher from neighborhoods where blue- collar workers predominate, even though those areas have higher crime rates. 

Meanwhile, two recent analyses suggest that there will be no short-term surge in office occupancy in the fall, and maybe not even next year.

In a just-issued report, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Empire Survey finds that remote work in the New York region accounts for 20% of all activity in the service sector and 7% in manufacturing. The amount of remote work is likely to remain near 20% for several years.

Another in-depth look at the issue from City Comptroller Brad Lander shows how the fallout from remote work extends far beyond the MTA.

“When Manhattan office workers are working from home in areas outside of Manhattan, they are more likely to frequent retail and recreation in those areas,” the report noted. This explains the big increase in businesses in Brooklyn compared with a sharp decline in Manhattan. 

The comptroller report also concluded that since surveys of workers show a strong preference for remote work, office occupancy is unlikely to rise sharply in the coming months.

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