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Couriers top industries bouncing back most from pandemic job losses, travel agencies rank last

Although the economy closed out 2021 with a disappointing 199,000 job gains in December, the overall employment recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic has been remarkably swift.

The nation has recouped 84% of the 22.4 million jobs lost in the health crisis, according to Labor Department figures, and is expected to claw back the rest by the end of this year.

Put another way, total U.S. payrolls are just 2.4% short of their pre-pandemic peak. In April 2020, they were 14.7% below that level.

But that broad picture masks wildly divergent showings among industries. Courier and warehouse jobs are well above their pre-crisis marks while travel agencies and movie production are far below.

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“The winners are easy to see,” says Dean Baker, co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. “They all center around people buying stuff at home."

The losers? Industries that were pummeled when Americans halted, or sharply cut back, traveling, going to restaurants, stores and other in-person activities.

“The industries on the front lines of the pandemic are the ones that are lagging,” says Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics.

Some may never return to their prior staffing levels as some Americans shift their spending patterns for the long term.

Among large “supersectors” that include various industries, the professional and business services group, which largely feature jobs that can be done remotely, is just 0.2% below its high-water mark, according to a Moody's Analytics analysis of Labor figures.

Leisure and hospitality – which includes restaurants, bars and hotels -- is still 7.2% below its pre-pandemic level despite leading the employment recovery with 7 million job gains since spring 2020.

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Here are the 5 best industries at reaching or topping their pre-COVID payrolls and the 5 that have lagged most, according to an analysis of Labor Department figures by CEPR’s Baker.

Winners

Couriers

Couriers for Just Eat Takeaway food delivery service ride their bikes

22.8%, or 201,500 jobs, above pre-crisis level.

They’re the foot soldiers of the home delivery craze and so their numbers have soared.

Warehousing and storage

Two warehouse workers with boxes on a cart.

13.6%, or 181,000 jobs, above pre-crisis level.

All those Amazon packages have to get stored and sorted by somebody.

Other information services

Google is the leading search engine.

9.9%, or 35,000, jobs above pre-crisis level.

The sector includes search engines like Google and Web publishing and broadcasting outlets that have thrived as Americans ramped up their online activities while stuck at home.

Nonstore retailers

Wayfair is an online furniture store.

9.9%, or 58,000, jobs above pre-crisis level.

Americans have shifted many of their purchases online.

Building materials and garden stores

Home Depot is a leading home materials store.

5.6%, or 73,000 jobs, above pre-crisis level.

People working and playing more at home are renovating and expanding their houses at a feverish pace.

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Losers

Travel agencies

Travel agencies have been among the hardest-hit industries during the pandemic.

26.3%, or 58,000 jobs below pre-crisis mark.

Americans have sharply cut back both business and leisure travel during the pandemic. The industry lost jobs through the 1990s and early 2000s as consumers switched to making reservations themselves on the Internet. Payrolls had stabilized in recent years but may never return to their pre-pandemic level if business travel remains subdued long-term despite an anticipated partial comeback, Baker says.

Movie production

A couple holding hands at a movie theater during an intense movie scene.

22.9%, or 101,000 jobs below pre-crisis level.

While moviegoing is expected to rebound further, it’s likely more people will stream movies and fewer will attend blockbusters in theaters, Baker says, curtailing hiring.

Clothing stores

Smiling cashier handing shopping bag to smiling shopper in clothing store.

18.2%, or 231,000 jobs, below pre-crisis level.

People working at home and not going out often don’t need as much new clothing. When they do refresh their wardrobes, they’re largely turning to the Web.

Ground transportation

A metro bus driver.

17.9%, or 88,000 jobs, below pre-crisis level.

People traveling and going out less don’t need as many Uber, taxi and bus drivers.

Sporting goods stores

The inside of a sporting goods store.

15.4%, or 86,000, jobs, below precrisis level.

The pandemic has led some Americans to increase sporting activities and others to pull back, according to a McKinsey report. But when they do make purchases, they’re often doing so online.