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SmartAsset 2022 Study: Industries Most and Least Affected by COVID-19

Census Bureau data from 2019 to 2020 shows the largest single-year drop in national employment. There were roughly 5.7 million fewer Americans employed in 2020 when compared with the prior year. Relative to total employment, the number of workers fell by an average of 3.58% from 2019 to 2020. Some industries were more affected than others, however.

In this study, SmartAsset took a closer look at the industries most and least affected by COVID-19. We compared 2019 and 2020 Census Bureau data across 13 industries. Additionally, we consider differences across industry changes by state, as not all states saw the same positive or negative effect for each industry. For more information on our data and how we put it together, read our Data and Methodology section below.

Key Findings

  • Not all industries experienced declines during COVID-19. Census Bureau data shows that between 2019 and 2020 employment increased in two industries: public administration along with professional, scientific & management and administrative & waste management services.
  • New Census Bureau data shows varying pandemic impacts on industry employment by state. Some industries saw a split in the number of states experiencing employment increases and decreases. For example, the transportation, warehousing and utilities industry declined by 2.02% nationally. However, employment in that industry increased in a total of 27 states and the District of Columbia, growing by more than 27% and 26% in North Dakota and Delaware, respectively.

Image is a table by SmartAsset titled "How COVID-19 Impacted U.S. Employment by Industry."

Industries Where Employment Was Most Affected by COVID-19

Across all 13 industries, the arts, entertainment & recreation and accommodation & food services industry was most negatively affected by COVID-19. Nationally, employment in this industry declined by roughly 15% between the two years. It decreased in all states except North Dakota, where it increased by about 4%. The District of Columbia followed by New Mexico were the two places with the largest hit to the arts, entertainment & recreation and accommodation & food services industry. Census Bureau data shows that from 2019 to 2020, arts, entertainment & recreation and accommodation & food declined by more than 41% and 24% in the District of Columbia and New Mexico, respectively.

Employment also declined by more than 5% in two industries: wholesale trade and other services. Four job categories make up the other services industry, namely:

  • Repair and maintenance
  • Personal and laundry services
  • Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional and similar organizations
  • Private households

At the state level, wholesale trade employment improved in 13 states and the District of Columbia between 2019 and 2020, declining in the remaining 37 states. The state with the largest hit to the wholesale trade industry is Mississippi. Census Bureau data shows that the industry experienced a decline of 32.23% in the total number of workers – the largest hit to any industry in the Magnolia State.

From 2019 to 2020, the number of workers in other services fell from 7.6 million to 7.2 million, marking a percentage decline of 5.41%. However, like the wholesale trade industry, employment for other services did not fall in all states. Other services employment improved in 15 states, growing by more than 5% in four states (Delaware, Idaho, Kentucky and Vermont) and the District of Columbia.

Industries Where Employment Was Least Affected by COVID-19

Public administration, which generally includes government support and administrative program jobs, was the industry least affected by COVID-19, growing by 3.02% from 2019 to 2020. Public administration employment increased the most in Alaska (32.18%) and decreased the most in North Dakota (-14.58%). In total, 34 states and the District of Columbia saw increases in public administration employment while the number of public administration workers declined in the remaining 18 states.

The other two industries least affected by COVID-19 are:

  • Professional, scientific & management and administrative & waste management services
  • Finance & insurance, real estate and rental & leasing

For both industries, more states experienced employment increases than the number of states that experienced employment decreases. Professional, scientific & management and administrative & waste management services employment in North Dakota rose by the most of any state, at 14.05%. Meanwhile, Idaho saw a large increase in the number of finance & insurance, real estate and rental & leasing, with employment growing by 18.63%.

Data and Methodology

Data for this study comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 and 2020 1-year American Community Surveys. To note, the 2020 data is part of their experimental estimates. More information can be found here.

To identify the industries most and least affected by COVID-19, we looked at a total of 13 nonfarm industries and found the percentage difference between 2019 employment and 2020 employment. SmartAsset also analyzed the data to determine how employment in each industry fluctuated within all 50 states and D.C.

Tips for Managing Your Finances Through Economic Uncertainty

  • Boost your emergency savings. One of the best ways to prepare for the unknown is by having an emergency fund. Though typical financial wisdom suggests you should have savings that can cover three months’ worth of expenses, six months’ may be a better figure to shoot for during a recession.
  • Keep your budget top of mind. One of the best ways to save more is through budgeting. Our budget calculator can help with this. Beyond letting you see how much you spend each month and what sixth months of expenses would look like, you can see how cutting back on discretionary expenses can increase your savings rate.
  • Consider professional help. If you are unsure of how big your emergency savings fund should be or how to improve maximizing your budget and investments, a financial advisor can help. Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

Questions about our study? Contact us at press@smartasset.com

Photo Credit: © iStock/Prostock-Studio

Stephanie Horan, CEPF® Stephanie Horan is a data journalist at SmartAsset. A Certified Educator of Personal Finance (CEPF®), she sources and analyzes data to write studies relating to a variety of topics including mortgage, retirement and budgeting. Before coming to SmartAsset, she worked as an analyst at an asset management firm. Stephanie graduated from Williams College with a degree in Mathematics. Originally from Philadelphia, she has always been a Yankees fan and currently lives in New York.
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