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COVID-19 erased New York’s Employment Gains over the Past Decade

From June 2011 to June 2019, New York saw employment increase by 388,440 – 4.4%. But by June 2021, the pandemic had erased all those gains. In June, the state’s employment was lower than in 2011 – by 72,916 jobs or 0.8%. Both before the COVID pandemic and in June 2021, New York’s job performance was weaker than the nation’s as a whole. Employment grew by 11.6% between June 2011 and June 2019. By June 2021, the increase had dropped to 7.9%.

Nationally and in New York State, the COVID-19 pandemic derailed a long economic expansion that began after the housing-related crash of 2007-2008. Although the COVID-related recession was deep, recovery has been rapid as limits on businesses and personal interactions have been relaxed. Still, in June 2021, employment in New York State and the nation remained below the pre-COVID trend.

The data source for this analysis is the U. S. Department of Labor’s Local Area Employment Statistics Series, based on the Census Bureau’s Current Population Series.

Why was New York’s job performance weaker than the nation’s? How large is COVID-19’s continuing impact?

Employment Growth was Concentrated in a Few States

Data is for June of each year. Source U. S. Department of Labor, Local Area Unemployment Statistics

Although New York’s jobs picture is weaker than the nation’s, its weakness largely reflects regional patterns. A small number of states saw most of the growth in employment that took place in the past decade. Although the United States saw job growth between 2011 and 2021, more than half of the total growth – 6.1 million of 11.2 million – took place in five states: – Texas, Florida, California, Georgia, and Florida. Nine states – Wyoming, Alabama, Hawaii, Mississippi, New Jersey, Vermont, New York, Connecticut, and Illinois- lost jobs, with Illinois losing 160,000.

Data is for June of each year. Source U. S. Department of Labor, Local Area Unemployment Statistics

The rate of growth varied substantially, as well. In six states – Utah, Idaho, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, and Florida – employment grew by more than 20% during the period. Employment decreased in New Jersey, New York, Wyoming, Mississippi, Illinois, Alabama, Hawaii, Connecticut, and Vermont, which lost nearly 20% of the jobs that existed at the beginning of the period.

New York’s Employment Change between 2011 and 2021 was Similar to its Neighbors

In the Northeast and Middle Atlantic Region, two states saw employment growth over the past ten years. Massachusetts grew by nearly 9%, and New Hampshire saw 4% growth. Two states lost significant numbers of jobs. Vermont jobs declined by more than 9%, and Connecticut lost 5.6%. Employment stagnated in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Maine, New York, and New Jersey. New York lost 0.8% of the jobs that existed in 2010.

Covid Hurt Job Growth Nationally, and in New York

Data is for June of each year. Source U. S. Department of Labor, Local Area Unemployment Statistics

Local Area Employment Series data showed that compared with 2019, employment in June 2021 nationally was 3.3% lower. But, there was considerable variation in employment change from state to state. New York had 5% fewer jobs; 14 other states did worse than New York, including Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, Maryland, Ohio, Iowa, Virginia, Kentucky, and California. Only eleven states had more jobs in June 2021 than in the same month in 2019 – Utah, Idaho, South Dakota, Oregon, Arizona, Montana, Oklahoma, Florida, Kansas, Georgia, and South Carolina.

The dismal employment performance in the nation since 2019 contrasts with the strong growth between 2011 and 2019. Jobs grew nationally by 11.6% during that period.

States in the New York region saw slower growth than the nation between 2011 and 2019, with most having job growth in a narrow range from four to seven percent. New York’s job growth was only 4.4%, less than half the national growth rate, and slightly lower than neighboring states other than Vermont, which lost jobs between 2011 and 2019. Massachusetts with 13.8% and New Hampshire with 7.9% were regional job growth leaders.

The impact of the COVID pandemic can be seen in the decline in jobs in 2021 vs. 2019. Most states, including New York, lost between 4% and 6% of their pre-COVID employment in the region. But Vermont lost nearly 9%, while Connecticut lost nearly 11%.

Employment Performance Varied Among Metropolitan Areas

For this chart, data is for May of each year. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U. S. Department of Labor

A closer look at county-level data in the Northeast shows that employment growth was concentrated in metropolitan portions of New York and the states surrounding it. The most substantial increase in the region was in the Boston and Columbus, Ohio urban areas. Seven of the ten fastest-growing counties were in the Boston metropolitan area. Three were in the Columbus metro area. Three counties in the Boston area (Suffolk, Nantucket, and Middlesex) had job growth that exceeded 10% between 2011 and 2021, while two in the Columbus area (Delaware and Franklin) grew that fast. Portions of Vermont, New York’s Southern Tier, Western Pennsylvania, and Eastern Ohio had substantial losses.

Although job creation was weak at the state level in the Northeast and the Middle Atlantic States, the performance of metropolitan areas varied greatly. Four metropolitan areas grew more quickly than the nation as a whole. Columbus, Ohio, jobs grew by 10.%, Boston grew by 10.8%, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire grew by 9.7%. At the other end of the scale, Youngstown, Ohio lost 12.4% of its jobs, Binghamton lost 12.6%, Norwich -New London, Connecticut lost 12.9%, Elmira lost 13.9%, and Johnstown, Pennsylvania lost 17.1%.

The performance of New York metropolitan areas across the 2011-2021 period varied, but employment declined in most cases. Only Albany-Schenectady-Troy, which had an increase of 1.4%, and the New York Metropolitan area, which increased by 0.3%, gained jobs. Buffalo’s employment decreased by 1.6%, Rochester’s 2.2%, Syracuse’s 5.3%, Utica-Rome’s 6.7%, and Binghamton’s 12.6%.

Compared to 59 other regional metropolitan areas, New York ranked 23rd, Albany-Schenectady-Troy ranked 21st. Buffalo, 27th, and Rochester ranked 30th. All other New York metros ranked below the group median. Binghamton and Elmira in the Southern Tier ranked 57th and 59th.

Compared with 2019, New York’s metropolitan areas, except for the New York City Metropolitan area, have been less negatively impacted by the COVID pandemic than the regional median. With 6.3% fewer jobs than before the COVID pandemic, New York City ranked 42nd among regional metros. But, because two-thirds of the state’s population lives in the area, the slow recovery there is reflected in the fact that the state had lost five percent of its jobs in 2019.


The COVID pandemic hurt employment growth in the past decade nationally and in New York State. National employment growth was cut by about four percent – from 11.6% in June 2019 to 7.9% in June 2021. In slower-growing New York, 4.4% employment growth in 2019 changed to a 0.8% loss.

Although employment has recovered substantially from the worst declines of Spring 2020, complete recovery continues to be threatened by COVID’s persistence, as evidenced by the emergence of new strains, like the Delta variant, which has a much higher transmission rate than COVID’s initial form. The emergence of the Delta variant has caused many employers to postpone employees’ returns to office settings, slowing the recovery of commercial centers like New York City.

New York’s lackluster job performance largely reflects regional factors – its employment change was near that of other nearby states. And like those other states, there was much variation in the performance of metropolitan areas, with larger metropolitan areas in the state doing better than smaller ones and rural areas. Areas like the Southern Tier, Western Pennsylvania, and Eastern Ohio have had hefty employment losses – in some cases, more than 10% in the past decade.

In a recent post, I examined population changes over the past decade. Although COVID has hurt employment everywhere, regional population change and the decline of rural populations have driven much of the differences in employment change. Job growth, like population growth, has largely taken place in a few states in the coastal South and the West. Large metropolitan areas like Boston and Columbus in the Northeast and Midwest are among the few places in the region that have seen growth like that in faster-growing parts of the nation.

As with population change, political arguments about the possible impact of State level taxes on job growth are not supported by available data. In the Northeast, the Boston Metropolitan area, with its high taxes, is among the fastest-growing areas. In the South, although Florida, with its low taxes, is growing quickly, low tax states like Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana are among the states with the weakest performance.

COVID continues to impose difficult choices on policy-makers. Disease control strategies have consequences for the nation’s economic recovery. When states shut down business activities that involved personal interactions, the nation lost millions of jobs.

Some policy actions could hasten the return of job growth. In the past, we successfully eliminated the threat posed by several diseases, including Polio, in the 1950s with universal vaccination requirements. But, because a significant portion of the population continues to resist vaccination, mandates have been employed in relatively few settings, such as healthcare facilities and public schools. Mask mandates and social distancing can also help but face resistance from a portion of the public and some governmental leaders. The result is likely to be continued COVID spread and the need for control measures, with their attending effects on employment.

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