Hospitality jobs in Southern Utah suffered during COVID-19, but data shows improvements

Stock image, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Although employment stability in Southern Utah’s tourist season may go down in history as one of the most volatile on record, the data suggests the region is slowly climbing out of the abyss.

According to preliminary statistics from the Utah Department of Workforce Services, what started out as an unemployment rate for Washington County residents — those who filed a weekly claim as of March 16 — was less than 1%  (325 people) but has risen to 2,597; however, at its highest, weekly claims during COVID-19 were more than 5,600.

The hardest hit was in leisure and hospitality unemployment that currently stands at 20%.

However, the data shows a positive employment trend in this industry.

April job loss, year over year, was down by 43%, but by May, the unemployment number was 25%, said Lecia Langston, Workforce Services’ regional economist for southwest and central Utah.

“When we are looking at the claims, most of them are coming in from leisure, hospitality, retail trade … temp agencies … and for a while from the health care industry,” Langston said. “When we get the hard numbers in during the first week of October, I’m sure this is where we will see the employment losses.”

Utah’s June Unemployment Figures

The hospitality industry in counties that rely on domestic visitors and especially international travelers for an influx of tourist dollars, like Garfield County where around 40% of its revenues come from visitors, have been hit the hardest. Washington County has weathered the COVID-19 storm a little better, Langston added.

“Washington County has been hit a little bit harder than average, but we have a pretty well-rounded economy here … with a growing and robust construction industry,” Langston said. “Although Zion (National Park) opened up shuttle service, it wasn’t a huge portion of our leisure and hospitality service jobs. Where we are hurting here is that we did not see the busloads of international travels come through St. George that we saw last year or the year before, and the fact that restaurants couldn’t open like they were used to.”

However, Langston sees light at the end of what has been a long tunnel.

“Business cycles come and business cycles go, and I think with COVID we are going to get a handle on that,” Langston said. “I think it’s human nature to think where we are right now is how things are always going to be and that’s just not true.”

“But, we are certainly not out of the woods,” Langston added. “We are still seeing very high rates of first-time claims and weekly claims, but it’s nothing like it was in March and April, but most areas have improved.”

Egar to get back to work, resident Linda Reynolds said while the past few months have been a challenge, it did provide a teachable moment.

“I never thought about using coupons at the store. I never thought about planning trips around town to combine stops and I never thought about how precious a walk around the neighborhood was, but now I do,” Reynolds said. “I’m not sure about the future, but I do know soon I will have a steady paycheck.”

Although Reynolds will have to commute to Mesquite during her workweek, it’s a small sacrifice to regain everything she has lost.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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