Nine States and DC Struggle to Recover Lost Jobs from Pandemic

25 December 2023

The nation’s capital lags behind in job recovery, while the country as a whole sees strong growth

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States experienced a significant loss of jobs, with approximately 22 million disappearing in just two months. While the nation has made strides in recovering these jobs, the process has been uneven across different states and cities. Surprisingly, the nation’s capital, Washington D.C., finds itself in the worst position, trailing behind every state in job recovery. As of October 2023, D.C. has only managed to recover 64% of the jobs lost during the initial months of the pandemic. This article explores the factors contributing to this disparity and examines the broader employment landscape across the country.

Uneven Recovery: States Struggling to Bounce Back

While many states have successfully recovered all of the jobs lost during the early stages of the pandemic, nine states and D.C. continue to face challenges. Hawaii, Rhode Island, Maryland, Vermont, Louisiana, New York, West Virginia, North Dakota, and Michigan are still working towards restoring their pre-pandemic economies. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly estimates for state employment reveal that D.C. is in the most precarious position, lagging behind all other states in job recovery.

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Migration Patterns and Employment Growth

The uneven recovery can be attributed, in part, to the migration patterns that emerged during the pandemic. As remote and hybrid work arrangements became more prevalent, individuals opted to leave cities like Washington, San Francisco, and New York in favor of more affordable and attractive locations in the South, Southwest, and Mountain West. Consequently, states like Idaho and Utah experienced the highest employment gains since the pandemic’s onset, followed closely by Texas, Florida, and North Carolina.

D.C.’s Dismal Job Numbers: Factors at Play

D.C.’s struggle to recover its lost jobs can be attributed to several factors. One significant contributor is the low office occupancy in the downtown area. The city heavily relied on commuters from outside the District, many of whom now work remotely. Additionally, federal workers have been slow to return to in-person work, further impacting local businesses.

Another factor is the decline in federal employment within the city over the past few years. Researchers at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government predict that the region will lose an additional 8,000 federal jobs in the coming months. Traditionally, the federal government has acted as a buffer for D.C. during recessions, but this time, the conventional wisdom does not hold.

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Industries Affected and Racial Disparities

The pandemic’s job losses have affected various industries, with leisure and hospitality taking a significant hit. However, the professional and business services sector has also struggled. Furthermore, the pain of job losses has not been evenly distributed among D.C. residents. The city has the worst racial unemployment gap in the country, with the Black unemployment rate seven times higher than the white unemployment rate in 2022, according to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute.


While the United States has made significant strides in recovering the jobs lost during the early months of the pandemic, the recovery has been uneven across states and cities. Washington D.C. finds itself in the worst position, struggling to regain the jobs it lost. Factors such as remote work, federal employment decline, and low office occupancy have contributed to the city’s challenges. As the nation continues its recovery, it is crucial to address the disparities and ensure that all communities have equal opportunities for economic growth and job creation.

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