Report Tracks COVID-19 Impact on Orange County’s Retail, Hospitality, and Tourism Sector Feature Story

December 15, 2021
Panoramic view of Paséa Hotel & Resort swimming pool area overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Huntington Beach, Orange County, California USA.

Of all the sectors impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Retail, Hospitality, and Tourism (RHT) has been one of the hardest hit, resulting in massive jobs losses and business closures. Ongoing closures and re-openings led to a sharp decline in RHT employment throughout the county, resulting in over 80,000 lost jobs since the start of the pandemic. As one of Orange County’s largest sectors, the immediate and long-term effects of this decline are a cause for concern among industry leaders, business owners, and local workers alike.

To better understand the impact of the global pandemic on the local RHT sector, Orange County’s Center of Excellence (OC COE) has authored the recent report, Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Retail, Hospitality, and Tourism Sector in Orange County, providing timely insights into the current state and future of RHT in the region.

The report, conducted by Jacob Poore, interim director of the OC COE, provides an analysis of labor market data from a variety of proprietary and publicly available sources to provide an overview of the RHT industry prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though RHT is typically combined into one sector, the effects of the pandemic on Retail were different than those for Hospitality and Tourism. Because of this, the report presents Retail data separately from Hospitality and Tourism.

Some of the report’s key findings include:

  • Though the impacts of the pandemic were widespread, the RHT sector was most heavily impacted and suffered the largest job losses due to multiple closures and re-openings.
    • From 2019 to 2020, Retail accounted for 9.6% of all job losses in Orange County and Hospitality and Tourism accounted for 45% of all job losses.
  • The effects of the pandemic were felt most acutely in areas throughout the county that are younger, more racially and ethnically diverse, and have lower levels of income when compared to the county average.
    • The number of RHT workers filing unemployment insurance (UI) claims hit an all-time high in March 2020. The highest number of UI claims were filed by RHT workers residing in Anaheim, Costa Mesa, Fullerton, and Garden Grove.
  • Within the RHT industry, 11 occupations accounted for 49% of job losses from 2019 to 2020 in Orange County.
    • All 11 occupations have entry-level hourly earnings far below the current living wage of $20.63. Workers in these occupations are typically younger, more racially and ethnically diverse, and have lower levels of educational attainment when compared to all workers in Orange County.

Despite the overwhelming nature of this downturn, there is something of a silver lining—as RHT businesses re-open, job openings are booming and playing a key role in the region’s recovery. As of July 2021, there were over 2.9 million job openings nationally within the RHT industry.

Most Impacted Occupations

Though nearly all industries were negatively affected by the pandemic, the RHT sector was substantially impacted because only a small portion of establishments were considered essential businesses and a significant part of their business activities could not be conducted remotely.

Occupations in the retail industry that were most affected by the pandemic included:

  • Stockers and order fillers
  • Retail salespersons
  • Cashiers
  • First-line supervisors of retail sales workers
  • Freight, stock, and material movers

Occupations in the hospitality and tourism industries that were most affected by the pandemic included:

  • Fast-food and counter workers
  • Waiters and waitresses
  • Fast-food and restaurant cooks
  • Amusement and recreation attendants
  • Maids and housekeeping cleaners
  • Dining room and cafeteria attendants
  • Bartenders and bartender helpers

Job Losses and Impact

As the data suggests, workers employed in RHT occupations were particularly hard-hit due to lockdown measures that forced non-essential retail stores, hotels, restaurants, and other hospitality businesses to close, resulting in massive job losses. According to the report, these occupations accounted for 49% of the job losses in the RHT industry in Orange County from 2019 to 2020. Though the occupations that were affected in Retail are different from those in Hospitality and Tourism, they share several characteristics, including similar wages, age composition, racial and ethnic composition, and educational attainment. These occupations are generally considered entry-level, have low wages, employ a high percentage of young workers and Hispanic and Latino workers, and typically require no more education than a high school diploma or equivalent.

From Recovery to Rebuilding

According to the report, retail employment has largely followed a similar recovery as Orange County non-farm jobs, maintaining a relatively steady climb since January 2021. As of July 2021, retail employment sat at 6% below January 2020 levels, while hospitality and tourism employment remained about 10% below that of January 2020.

Going forward, the report concludes, “Due to the current increase in demand, displaced RHT workers could return relatively easily to the industry with their existing skill-set. However, these workers can also consider attending an Orange County community college to receive training for an in-demand, growing occupation.” To accomplish this, the report suggests that Orange County community colleges consider implementing targeted outreach to the communities that were most impacted by the pandemic so that displaced workers are aware of the training opportunities available to them at their local community college.

For more information regarding these in-demand, growing occupations, including labor market demand, wages, and the typical length of time it takes to complete a program, please read the OC COE’s companion report, Jobs for Recovery: Occupational Training Opportunities for Displaced Workers in Orange County.