Business is booming.

In New York City, Pandemic Job Losses Linger

The darkest days of the pandemic are far behind New York City. Masks go off, Times Square is full of tourists and lunch spots in Midtown Manhattan have a growing line of workers in business suits. When you walk through the city, it often feels like 2019 again.

But the effervescent surface masks a lingering wound from the pandemic. While the country as a whole has recently regained all of the jobs it lost at the start of the health crisis, New York City is still missing 176,000, representing the slowest recovery for a metropolitan area, according to the latest employment data.

New York relies more than other cities on international tourists, business travelers and commuters, whose faltering returns have weighed on the workers who care for them — from bartenders and baggage handlers to office cleaners and theater sitters. A majority of lost private sector jobs are concentrated in the hospitality and retail sectors, traditional pipelines to the workforce for younger adults, immigrants and residents without college degrees.

By contrast, total employment in sectors that enable remote work, such as the technology sector, has returned to prepandemic levels.

The one-sided recovery threatens to widen inequality in a city where apartment rents are rising, while the number of residents receiving temporary government support has risen by nearly a third since February 2020. With New York emerging from the pandemic, city leaders are at risk of an economic recovery leaving thousands of workers behind.

“The real damage here is that many of the industries with the most accessible jobs are the ones that are still struggling to make a full recovery,” said Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the Center for an Urban Future, a public policy think tank.

New York City was hit particularly hard by the first wave of the virus, leading to company closures and employer vaccine mandates that were among the longest and strictest in the country. Part of the reason for New York’s lagging recovery is that it lost a million jobs in the first two months of the pandemic, the most of any city.

More recently, New York City has been rapidly regaining jobs. The tech sector even added jobs in the first 18 months of the pandemic, a time when nearly every other industry shrank.

But job growth in sectors like hotels and restaurants slowed this summer compared to a year ago, while companies in technology, healthcare and finance increased employment at a faster rate over the same period, according to an analysis by James Parrott, an economist at the Center. for New York City Affairs at the New School.

In July, the city’s unemployment rate was 6.1 percent, compared to 3.5 percent nationwide that month.

At the height of the pandemic, Ronald Nibbs, 47, was fired as a janitor at an office building in Midtown Manhattan, where he had worked for seven years. Mr. Nibbs, his girlfriend and his two children struggled with unemployment benefits and food stamps.

He secured temporary positions, but the work was sloppy with few people in offices. He did not want to change careers in the hope of regaining his old position. He started drinking heavily to face the fear of unemployment.

In May, his building finally called him back to work. “When I got that call, I wanted to cry,” Mr Nibbs said.

According to Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, there are now 1,250 fewer cleaners in the city than before the pandemic.

Last month, New York officials lower their job growth forecast for 2022 to 4.3 percent, from 4.9 percent, saying the state was not expected to reach prepandemic employment until 2026. Officials cited the persistence of working from home and the migration of city dwellers out of the state as a long-term risk to employment levels.

The number of tourists visiting New York City this year is expected to return to 85 percent of levels in 2019, a year in which a record 66.6 million travelers arrived, according to forecasts from NYC & Company, the city’s official tourism bureau. .

However, according to the agency, visitors to the city generally spend less, as those who have stayed longer in the past — business and international travelers — have not returned at the same rates. This has impacted department stores that rely on high-spending foreign visitors, as well as hotels that rely on business travelers to book conferences and banquets.

Ilialy Santos, 47, this month returned to her job as a room attendant at the Paramount Hotel in Times Square, which is reopening for the first time since March 2020. The hotel was a candidate for conversion into affordable housing, but the plan was opposed by a local union, the New York Hotel and Gaming Trades Council, to save jobs.

Ms. Santos said she couldn’t find work for two years and was behind on her bills every month. The hotel union has paid her landlord $1,000 to help cover her rent.

“I’m excited to go back to work, get back to my normal life and become more stable,” said Ms. Santos.

Despite high unemployment in the city, many employers say they still struggle to find workers, especially in positions that cannot be done remotely. The size of the workforce has also fallen, by about 300,000 people as of February 2020.

Some workers who lost their jobs early in the pandemic are now holding out for positions that would allow them to work from home.

Jade Campbell, 34, has been unemployed since March 2020, when the pandemic temporarily closed the Old Navy store where she had worked as a sales associate. When the store called her back in the fall, she was in the midst of a difficult pregnancy, with a first-grade son struggling to concentrate during online classes. She decided to stay at home and applied for various types of government support.

Mrs Campbell now lives alone in Queens with no childcare allowance; her children are 1 and 8 years old. She has refused to be vaccinated against Covid-19, a requirement in New York City for many personal jobs. Still, she said she was optimistic about applying for remote customer service positions after reaching out to Goodwill NYNJ, a nonprofit organization, for help with her resume.

“I have two children that I know I have to take care of,” she said. “I can’t really depend on the government to help me.”

At Petri Plumbing & Heating in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, several employees have resigned due to the city’s policy that employees of private companies must be fully vaccinated. The restriction was the strictest in the country when it was announced in December 2021 at the end of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s term.

After Mayor Eric Adams indicated earlier this year that his administration would not enforce the mandate, Michael Petri, the company’s owner, offered to re-hire three former employees. One returned, another had found another job, and the third had moved to another state, he said.

Thanks to an hourly wage of $50 and monthly bonuses, the current vacancies at Petri Plumbing have attracted a flood of applicants. In a shift from before the pandemic, Mr Petri said he now has to wade through more applicants with no plumbing experience.

The strongest candidates often have too many driving violations to be put on the company’s insurance policy, he said. But recently, Mr. Petri was so desperate for a mechanic with too many offenses that he hired a young laborer to drive him.

“This is without a doubt one of the tougher times we’ve been through,” said Mr. Petri, whose family started the business in 1906.

The disruption has caused the city’s youngest workers to relapse the most. The unemployment rate for workers aged 16 to 24 is 20.7 percent.

After graduating from high school in 2020, Simone Ward enrolled in a community college, but dropped out after a few months, as she no longer felt involved in online classes.

Ms. Ward, 20, enrolled in a cooking show at Queens Community House, a nonprofit organization, which allowed her to land a part-time job preparing steak sandwiches at Citi Field during baseball games. But scheduling was inconsistent, and the job required a 90-minute journey on three subway lines from her home in the Canarsie neighborhood of Brooklyn.

She applied for data entry jobs that would allow her to work remotely, but never heard back. She recalled an interview for a job at a restaurant in Olive Garden and recognized the moment she waved her social skills diminished due to the isolation of the lockdown.

“The pandemic feels like it took my life five steps back,” she said.

For Desiree Obando, 35, losing her job at a restaurant in Manhattan’s West Village early in the pandemic forced her to leave the hospitality industry after 12 years. When the restaurant group she worked for asked her to come back a few months later, she had already enrolled at LaGuardia Community College and was returning to school after dropping out twice before, aiming to become a high school counselor.

She now has a part-time job at an education nonprofit that pays $20 an hour, less than her hospitality job. But the job is close to her home in East Harlem, giving her the flexibility to pick up her daughter when the school is infected with the virus.

Ms. Obando is hopeful that she will eventually receive an income boost after she completes her master’s degree.

“There’s nothing like the pandemic to put things in perspective,” Ms Obando said. “I made the right choice for me and my family.