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Hospitality workers on edge, wondering if jobs will come back

Kavita Kumar, Star Tribune on

Published in Business News

For much of the last year, Claudia Sandoval worried she might lose her house.

In the early days of the pandemic, when travel and group events came to a grinding halt in March, she lost her job as a banquet cook at Delta Hotel by Marriott in northeast Minneapolis. Her bills began piling up.

She was able to pay her mortgage with her unemployment benefits. She prioritized other bills, signing up for payment plans so her utilities wouldn't be cut off. She visited food shelves to help feed her two children. And her $3,800 property tax bill that she was already behind on? That had to wait.

"It's been stressful," said Sandoval, 36, of Maplewood, Minn. "Not knowing what tomorrow will bring and not knowing what's happening. Not knowing if you can depend on any money coming in. It's been the worst."

The pandemic led to job losses in pretty much every sector of the economy. But because it curtailed in-person socializing, no sector has been as hard-hit as leisure and hospitality.

The sector remains in a deep hole, with nearly 4 million fewer jobs nationally. In January, the unemployment rate in leisure and hospitality was 15.9%, more than double the national rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

 

"It's definitely the industry that's suffered the most," said Steve Grove, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).

For restaurant workers, it's been a year of whiplash. When the pandemic hit, many found themselves suddenly jobless as restaurants quickly shut down. Some returned to work when indoor dining resumed at lower capacities in the summer, only to be out again as COVID-19 cases surged in late fall, prompting the state to restrict indoor dining again for a couple of months.

For hotel workers, there haven't been many callbacks yet — not even for a few months. Some have found other jobs. Others wait in limbo, hoping to still return to their previous jobs as they juggle paying rent and other bills with unemployment insurance.

Those jobless benefits were extended by Congress in December. They are set to expire next month, though a new federal stimulus could extend them through summer.

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