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Image shows a hospitality industry worker standing at a concierge desk. SmartAsset used various data sources to conduct its latest study, "Where Leisure and Hospitality Jobs Are Recovering Fastest."

The leisure and hospitality industry was one of the hardest hit following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in America. Social distancing rules and health concerns about travel and gathering in large groups kept hotels empty and reduced restaurants to outdoor dining and takeout. Though the pandemic certainly isn’t over, there are signs of the economy rebounding. SmartAsset analyzed data to identify and rank which states are seeing the fastest recovery in leisure and hospitality.

To do so, we compared the most recently available data relating to leisure and hospitality employment (from May 2021) and job listings (from June 2021) to pre-pandemic figures from January 2020 in the 45 states for which data was available. For details on our data sources and how we put the information together to create our final rankings, check out the Data and Methodology section below.

Key Findings

  • Employment is still down. Across the states included in this study, the average employment in leisure and hospitality is down 15.7% when compared to January 2020 numbers. Only two states have seen employment increase since that time – Mississippi and Alabama. The biggest decrease comes from Vermont, where employment is down 28.7% in these fields.
  • Job postings are up. While employment is down, the number of jobs available is up when compared to January 2020 totals. Across the states included in this study, job postings are up 19.5% compared to January 2020 numbers. Vermont, which had the biggest drop in leisure and hospitality employment, leads this study in terms of postings, which are up 128% compared to January 2020 numbers. Arizona, by contrast, places last in this metric, with leisure and hospitality postings dropping 28.5% compared to January 2020 numbers.

Image is a table by SmartAsset titled "Where Leisure and Hospitality Jobs Are Returning Most Quickly."

1. Mississippi

Mississippi has seen employment in the hospitality industry grow by 12.9% compared to January 2020 numbers, the highest increase in this study. Job postings for leisure and hospitality are up 65.3% since the same time frame, placing fourth in this study.

2. Maine

Compared to January 2020 totals, job listings for leisure and hospitality positions are up 128% in Maine, tied for first in this study. Actual employment in these industries is down just 3.8%, the fourth-best on our list.

3. Alabama

Alabama is one of just two states to see an increase in hospitality employment compared to January 2020 numbers, jumping 5.6% to second for that metric in this study. Job postings are up 24.9%, the 14th-highest increase for this metric.

4. Kansas

Kansas finishes sixth for both of the metrics used in this study: hospitality employment is down 6.1% since January 2020, while leisure and hospitality job postings are up 54.8%.

5. Arkansas

Total employment in the Arkansas hospitality industry is down 6.4% compared to January 2020 numbers, placing seventh in this study. Job postings in the industry, meanwhile, are up 52.8%, eighth-highest for this metric.

6. Iowa

Iowa has seen the third-biggest jump in leisure and hospitality job postings since January 2020, up 76.5%. Employment, though, is down slightly — placing 11th in this study with a drop of 10.8%.

7. Indiana

Indiana places 10th for both metrics used in this study — hospitality employment is down 7.9% and leisure and hospitality job postings are up 51.1%.

8. West Virginia

West Virginia has almost seen leisure and hospitality employment return to where it was in January 2020, down just 0.3% (third in this study). But it’s the only city in the top 10 to see a decrease in leisure and hospitality postings, dropping 12.8% to place 41st on our list in that metric.

9. Kentucky

Kentucky ranks fifth in this study for leisure and hospitality employment, down 5.3% since January 2020. Job postings in the industry, however, increased 6.1% over that same time period, placing 25th.

10. South Carolina

The Palmetto State’s leisure and hospitality industry employment is down 7% since January 2020, placing it eighth in this study. But job postings in this sector increased 6.9%, 22nd-highest out of all the states included here.

Data and Methodology

Data for this report comes from tracktherecovery.org, published by Opportunity Insights with support from Harvard University, Brown University and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The data comes from private companies, such as credit card processors and payroll firms, that Opportunity Insights partnered with to provide real-time insights on the economic impacts of COVID-19.

We compared 45 states (five others didn’t have complete data) across the following metrics:

  • Leisure and Hospitality Employment. Numbers are as of May 5, 2021 as compared to January 4-21, 2020.
  • Leisure and Hospitality Job Postings. Numbers are as of June 25, 2021 as compared to January 4-31, 2020.

We ranked each state in both metrics, and then found the average ranking for each state. Employment numbers were given a double weight while job posting numbers were given a single weight. We then ranked the states according to this average, with the top state given an index score of 100 and the bottom state given an index score of 0.

Tips for Financial Preparedness in Uncertain Times

  • Find a hospitable financial advisor. As you figure out your new normal, consider working with a financial advisor to help you make the most of your finances. SmartAsset’s free tool connects you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors, get started now.
  • Ensure your long-term leisure. If you work in the leisure and hospitality industry, you may dream of finding more time in your post-work life to enjoy yourself. Today is the time to plan for retirement. If you have access to a workplace retirement plan such as a 401(k), make sure you’re using it.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Petko Ninov

Ben Geier, CEPF® Ben Geier is an experienced financial writer currently serving as a retirement and investing expert at SmartAsset. His work has appeared on Fortune, Mic.com and CNNMoney. Ben is a graduate of Northwestern University and a part-time student at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing and a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®). When he isn’t helping people understand their finances, Ben likes watching hockey, listening to music and experimenting in the kitchen. Originally from Alexandria, VA, he now lives in Brooklyn with his wife.
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