Hospitality lags after many Nevada job sectors bounce back to pre-pandemic levels


Since June, Nevada has had long-awaited good news regarding jobs and pandemic recovery in the state.

The Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR) has reported 7,700 jobs added in July, one month after Nevada reached an “all-time high” of 1,452,600 jobs in the state, bringing statewide employment up 5.7% over the last year.

On the other hand, Nevada still ranks among the five states with the highest unemployment rates. Although the state’s unemployment has improved 0.3% since June, the current rate of 4.4% is right behind that of Alaska and New Mexico, the two states tied with the highest unemployment in the nation at 4.5%.

With some gains made in the state, and more to be made, Dr. Amanda Belarmino, assistant professor at UNLV’s College of Hospitality, says the economy—namely the lagging hospitality sector—is bound to recover. It’s just a question of when.

“The pace is going to be impacted in a lot of ways by macroeconomic impacts,” she says. “So, beyond the pandemic itself, [we’re] looking at inflation, looking at gas prices. All of these different things [are] still going to have an impact on employment, but the recovery is going to be there.”

Running higher than it has in forty years, inflation is slowing the recovery of jobs and possibly holding back industries looking to return to their former glory, she says. In July, the hospitality industry remained 30,000 jobs below its peak, according to DETR. Culinary Union Secretary-Treasurer Ted Pappageorge says about 80% of members are back to work, leaving about 10,000 who have not been called back in.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment in the Las Vegas metropolitan area is 5.6%—a 2.8% improvement from last year, but also considerably higher than the current statewide average (4.4%).

“The No. 1 thing out there is the cost of rent for folks, the cost of housing and the cost of gas,” Pappageorge tells the Weekly, adding that the majority of union members are women, Latinos, immigrants and workers who don’t earn tips.

“There’s going to have to be a healthy increase in wages for the hospitality industry,” he says. “And I think workers have been very clear, coming through COVID, that they want to be valued and paid in a fair manner for their work.”

Since the pandemic, many employers have increased wages to adjust for a shortage of hospitality workers. That doesn’t guarantee that companies will be able to attract them, however.

“Regardless of what they do with pay, it’s just really hard to get people back,” Belarmino says.

According to a 2021 study by Pew Research Center, the “accommodation and food services sector” which includes hotels, had the largest increase (more than 18.4%) in average weekly wages since the lockdown of spring 2020.

So if employers are paying more than they did before, why aren’t more workers coming back? Belarmino says having a lot of time to reflect during pandemic furloughs and layoffs likely made many workers decide to change industries—part of what has become known as the Great Resignation.

“People who were laid off during the pandemic are going to be more reluctant to go back to a hospitality organization, [especially] if they’ve already pivoted into something they view as more stable,” she says. “There are some people [for whom], perhaps, this was never a passion. And now they’re following what that passion is.”

As with many industries, some workers might have left hospitality seeking a better work-life balance, especially if they were a caregiver for someone at home.

Pappageorge and Belarmino cite companies’ use of technology as one of the biggest unknown factors in hospitality jobs bouncing back. Automated check-in kiosks, cashiers, even automated bartenders could impact the number of workers a company needs.

Pappageorge says the union remains vigilant about the effects technology could continue to have on hospitality jobs.

“COVID-19 increased and kind of accelerated this use of technology,” he says. “There’s going to be jobs. The question is, are they going to use that technology to get rid of senior workers and bring in new workers? Or are they going to make sure that new technology still provides opportunity for workers who are there?”

He adds that technology has the ability to enhance workers’ experience and make their work more efficient.

Belarmino says the goal of new technology isn’t necessarily to replace workers, but rather to make up for a worker shortage and smaller pool of workers to choose from.

“What I hear from operators is, ‘I would love to have my pre-pandemic staff, I just can’t find the people. So yes, we’re turning to this as an option,’” she explains. “One of the greatest things I think we underestimate is the impact of the people who passed away from COVID-19 … we have a smaller population to draw from, for jobs.”

More conventions and tourists—still about 8% behind Las Vegas’ pre-pandemic visitation—will add more jobs in the sector, she says, as well as new sports and entertainment options to attract more visitors and business.

“There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic. The Super Bowl [in 2024] is a great reason,” she says. “We’re diversifying our hospitality segment more … We’re not simply gaming, but adding sports, and really focusing on being an entertainment destination.”

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Shannon Miller

Shannon Miller joined Las Vegas Weekly in early 2022 as a staff writer. Since 2016, she has gathered a smorgasbord ...

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