Categorized As:Regional Direction
Philadelphia’s Employment Gains and Losses Since COVID-19
The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent jobs report continues to note major gains in national employment levels. These gains, however, are unevenly distributed across industries since many food, accommodation, and retail businesses continue to struggle to fill open positions . For this Leading Indicator, we continue to monitor employment within the City of Philadelphia since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic by taking a closer look at the net employment gains and losses across industry sectors.
What You Need to Know
While national employment levels show full recovery, Philadelphia’s employment is 3.7 percent smaller in April 2022 than it had been in February 2020.
Many of the industries and occupations that experienced employment gains in the past two years reflect the new demands of the COVID economy.
The city’s Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services industry has seen a net employment increase of roughly 4,400 jobs between February 2020 and April 2022.
Employment among Philadelphia’s Wholesale Trade industry, Federal Government occupations, and Construction, Mining, and Logging saw net increases of roughly 900, 500, and 400 between February 2020 and April 2022, respectively.
With a net loss of roughly 8,600 jobs between February 2020 and April 2022, Philadelphia’s Accommodation and Food Services sector continues to face a long road to recovery.
Employee burnout and high turnover seems to be a major factor behind the net employment loss of roughly 3,200 within the city’s Health Care and Social Assistance Industry.
When comparing regional occupation shares in 2019 and 2021, Greater Philadelphia’s professional services occupations, like Management occupations or those in Business and Finance Operations, saw their regional occupational shares increase by 0.9 and 0.8 percent, respectively.
Similarly, the increased demand on the movement, storage, and delivery of consumer products also increased the occupational share of the region's Transportation and Material Moving occupations by 0.4 percent between 2019 and 2021.
At –1.5 percent, Food Preparation and Serving Related occupations saw the greatest decline in their regional occupational share from 2019 to 2021. This translates to the net loss of roughly 57,000 jobs in Greater Philadelphia.
More “in-person-oriented" occupations saw their occupational share decrease between 2019 and 2021 as new COVID consumption and working patterns were adopted. Office and Administrative Support occupations as well as Sales and Related occupations saw 1.0 and 0.5 percent declines, respectively.
The regional occupational share of Personal Care and Service occupations—like barbers, hairdressers, cosmetologists, and fitness trainers—declined by 0.5 percent as more individuals were reluctant to seek out these in-person services amid COVID.
Philadelphia’s Employment Growth since February 2020
Employment is still on the rise in Philadelphia but has not reached pre-pandemic levels. Figure 1 details indexed employment growth for both the City of Philadelphia and the U.S. since February 2020. It shows that employment levels have been slowly recovering since April 2020.
SOURCE: Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Employment Statistics program.
As of May 2022, national employment levels have surpassed their original pre-pandemic estimates of February 2020. Employment in the City of Philadelphia, however, remains slightly below February 2020 levels. As of April 2022 (the most recent local estimates available), citywide employment is 3.7 percent below where it had been in February 2020. This means employment build-back in the city has been slow since many of the jobs lost in the initial months of the pandemic were low-wage positions that offered little security to employees. The current labor market, with many competitive employment opportunities, continues to keep riskier low-wage positions unfilled .
Industry-Level Gains and Losses
Disaggregating by industry sector details where employment levels have been growing and where they remain sluggish. Figure 2 shows the net employment differences between February 2020 and April 2020 for the City of Philadelphia’s various industry sectors.
SOURCE: Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Employment Statistics program.
Many of the net employment gains made in the past two years reflect the new demands of the COVID economy. With 4,400 net jobs gained, the city’s Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services industry has seen the greatest net employment increase since February 2020. This industry remained resilient through the pandemic’s initial economic lockdowns since many occupations could easily transition to remote settings. With increased demand for new remote-oriented professional services (e.g., technical assistance, online marketing and communications, etc.) and increased capital, employment in this industry has grown .
Increased net employment in the Wholesale Trade, Federal Government, and Construction, Mining, and Logging industries reflect increased demand in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumption, particularly online consumption, significantly increased amidst the initial months of the pandemic. This strained many supply chains since production was halted during the initial weeks of the first lockdowns . As our series on inflation in Greater Philadelphia found, supply chains are still reeling from the pandemic's lockdowns which has subsequently increased pressure on wholesale suppliers to keep stores stocked. This has also increased wholesale businesses’ demand for employees. As we have previously noted, increased employment in the Federal Government largely reflects the demands of collecting household information for the 2020 U.S. Census; however, increased federal funding across various relief programs may have also contributed to increased hiring. Finally, net employment gains in the Construction, Mining, and Logging industry reflect the recently hot real estate market and the increasing demand for housing – although, the Federal Reserve’s new anti-inflation measures may cool the demand for new construction .
Many of the industries that have seen net employment losses since February 2020 are those that saw higher cases of layoffs and furloughs at the start of the pandemic. With a net loss of roughly 8,600 jobs between February 2020 and April 2022, Philadelphia’s Accommodation and Food Services sector continues to face a long road to recovery. It, along with the other occupations within its parent industry of Leisure and Hospitality as well as Retail Trade, all saw the greatest number of layoffs and furloughs in the spring of 2020 .
Net losses in industries like Health Care and Social Assistance and Educational Services may be more indicative of growing employee burnout and turnover that has come to be called the “Great Reshuffling” . Whether it was managing new health guideline demands, increased patient or client loads, or transferring a curriculum to a remote setting, the pandemic increased occupational demands for many health care workers, social assistance providers, and educators. These new demands also increased dissatisfaction and burnout among employees. New employment opportunities with higher wages in a competitive labor market lured many employees away. As a result, employment in these industries continues to remain below their pre-pandemic levels.
Occupational Growth and Decline
Monitoring proportional changes in the region’s occupations further illustrates how the new COVID economy shifted employment priorities. Figure 3 uses regional occupational employment estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics program to compute the largest increases and decreases among the share of major occupational categories between May 2019 and May 2021. Categories with net increases indicate that those occupations made up a greater share of total regional occupations in 2021 than they had in 2019.
SOURCE: Data were obtained from annual estimates of the 2019 through 2021 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program.
Figure 3 further aligns with the trends found in figure 2: occupations within fields that were either initially resilient to the pandemic’s economic lockdowns or saw increased demand as a result of the pandemic are seeing major increases in their occupational shares. Professional services occupations, like Management and Business and Finance Operations, saw their regional occupational shares increase by 0.9 and 0.8 percent, respectively. Similarly, the increased demand on supply chains movement, storage, and delivery increased the proportional share of Transportation and Material Moving occupations by 0.4 percent.
Figure 3 also shows that the share of various health care occupations also increased. This is somewhat contrary to the net employment decline of the Health Care and Social Assistance industry found in figure 2. There are two underlying factors behind this discrepancy. First, is the occupation-versus-industry comparison: the entire Health Care and Social Assistance industry may have seen employment decline, but employment among specific health care occupational categories could have grown. This is the case for Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations which saw a net employment increase of 1,130 jobs between 2019 and 2021. The decline in total regional employment may have also increased the proportional concentration of some occupational categories since the major decline in total employment far outpaced minor employment declines in one occupational category (i.e., major decline in the proportional denominator overshadowed any decline in the numerator). This factor is likely for Healthcare Support Occupations which saw a net decline of 180 jobs between 2019 and 2021 but maintained a proportional increase in regional occupational share.
At –1.5 percent, Food Preparation and Serving Related Occupations saw the greatest decline in their regional occupational share from 2019 to 2021. This translates to the loss of roughly 57,000 jobs in the region and is accurately reflected in figure 2. Similarly, more “in-person-oriented" occupations saw their proportional share decrease between 2019 and 2021 as new COVID consumption and working patterns were adopted. Office and Administrative Support Occupations as well as Sales and Related Occupations saw 1.0 and 0.5 percent declines, respectively. Many of these occupations have roles reliant on in-office work or in-person meetings that could not translate in more remote settings. Similarly, the regional occupational share of Personal Care and Service Occupations—like barbers, hairdressers, cosmetologists, and fitness trainers—declined by 0.5 percent as more individuals were reluctant to seek out these in-person services amid COVID. Finally, the 0.1 percent decline in Computer and Mathematical Occupations relates to our previous findings of increasing burnout and turnover within the regional tech workforce. After Health Care and Social Assistance, technology-focused occupations saw extreme increases in demand at the onset of the pandemic, likely leading to increased workloads and burnout and pushing many workers to reconsider the field . This translated to a loss of roughly 10,700 regional Computer and Mathematical jobs between 2019 and 2021.
The COVID Economy
The recent employment gains in Philadelphia represent a general shift from the priorities of the pre-COVID economy. Industries and occupations adapted towards more remote or hybrid working environments as well as those that directly supply items and services across disparate locations are seeing easier transitions to the COVID economy. They are creating and filling open positions and growing past their pre-pandemic employment levels.
Occupations less adapted to these new settings are recovering at much slower rates – even with the lure of new benefits like increased wages. Since the spring of 2020, an air of distrust and reluctance still hangs over these occupations. For the past few decades prior to the pandemic, Philadelphia saw significant increases in low-wage employment opportunities with little to no financial or health securities . Many of these positions were the first to be laid off and furloughed during the pandemic’s initial economic lockdowns. This has left a lingering association of high risk associated with these previous low-wage positions amid the COVID economy. In the current labor market, with its higher wages and bountiful professional opportunities, it will remain difficult to fill these pre-COVID occupations. This is not to say that they will not, or should not, exist in a post-COVID economy, rather they need to be refitted to match the expectations of a new labor force. If we are to “build back better” there needs to be more conversations and experimentation around building better job security and benefits structures around foundational employment opportunities. We need to move beyond the simple discussion of wage increases—although that needs to be a major part of these evolving conversations since Pennsylvania’s minimum wage remains a regional outlier at just $7.25 an hour—and focus on new measures and structures—such as stable scheduling, portable benefits, and organized labor unions—that create sustainable, career-focused employment opportunities no matter what level of employment.
 Josephs, Leslie, Annie Palmer, and Amelia Lucas. 2022. “Help (mostly) wanted: A diverging job market boosts some workers’ prospects and puts others on notice.” CNBC, 29 May. Retrieved from: (https://www.cnbc.com/2022/05/29/us-job-market-divide-boosts-some-workers-prospects-puts-others-on-notice.html).
 Molla, Rani. 2021. “Service workers are getting paid more than ever. It’s not enough.” Vox, 1 November. Retrieved from: (https://www.vox.com/recode/22748448/service-food-hotel-workers-pay-raise-resignation-jobs-wages-benefits).
 Henney, Megan. 2022. “May jobs breakdown: Which industries saw the biggest payroll gain last month?” Yahoo Finance, 3 June. Retrieved from: (https://finance.yahoo.com/news/may-jobs-breakdown-industries-saw-174901604.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAJu7Zub2LCH6GwJJsl4laGTZ6rSyNmzNIrPwXnccIsSS3u2eE20Xrid-qdne6XsndYhBPvWQcWAr1muaufCip4wNMjBro_Qv2SdX2-vxyEhBQx2qU0Ujvwyo38HWic2yZOnKv0ysJeOOWStCCsdS8WmwN7_drUxGRpkeoSmlSnMJ).
 Gamio, Lazaro and Peter S. Goodman. 2021. “How the Supply Chain Crisis Unfolded.” The New York Times, 5 December. Retrieved from: (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/12/05/business/economy/supply-chain.html).
 Mutikani, Lucia. 2022. “Record high U.S. house prices, rising mortgages depress new home sales.” Reuters, 24 May. Retrieved from: (https://www.reuters.com/markets/us/us-new-home-sales-hit-two-year-low-prices-surge-2022-05-24/).
 Shields, Mike and Andrew Strohmetz. 2020. “Regional Employment Growth Amidst the Pandemic.” Leading Indicators, 18 November. Retrieved from: (https://economyleague.org/providing-insight/leadingindicators/2020/11/18/jobgrowthcovid).
 Edmond, Charlotte. 2022. “Explainer: What is the Great Reshuffle and how is it affecting the jobs market?” World Economic Forum, 7 February. Retrieved from: (https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/02/great-reshuffle-jobs-market-resignation/).
 Cook, Ian. 2021. “Who Is Driving the Great Resignation?” Harvard Business Review, 15 September. Retrieved from: (https://hbr.org/2021/09/who-is-driving-the-great-resignation?pStoreID=epp?jumpid=ps_wwsupplies).
 The Economy League of Greater Philadelphia. 2017. Industry Analytics for the City of Philadelphia’s Workforce Strategy. Philadelphia, PA: Economy League of Greater Philadelphia. Retrieved from: (https://economyleague.org/uploads/files/91564347173241843-industry-analytics-for-city-of-philadelphia-s-workforce-strategy.pdf).