The coronavirus pandemic has led to an unprecedented economic shutdown as thousands of “nonessential” businesses have closed their doors. The crisis disproportionately affects the 21.3% of American workers in retail, leisure, and hospitality who not only face lack of work, but also suffer from long-standing, below-average wages. According to the latest annual data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly wage for workers in the retail trade and leisure and hospitality sectors was just $19.70 and $16.55 in 2019, compared to $28 per hour across all workers.
Overall, the share of workers in retail, leisure, and hospitality increased steadily from 1970 to 2016 when it peaked at 21.8%. This trend was largely driven by an increasing share of employment in restaurants and bars, while employment in retail stagnated. Even though the last few years have seen a modest decline in the share of workers in these two sectors overall, more than one-fifth of all U.S. workers were employed in either retail trade or leisure and hospitality in 2019, totaling over 32 million workers.
The share of employment in these industries varies widely across cities and states based on local economic conditions and levels of tourism. Nevada and Hawaii lead the nation in the share of employment in retail, leisure, and hospitality at 35.5% and 30.1%, respectively. At the low end, Kansas and Minnesota both have about 19% of their workforce employed in these sectors.
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