Just in time for the pandemic’s fourth anniversary, the state’s latest monthly jobs data offer fresh evidence of the lingering economic damage wrought by New York’s heavy-handed response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

As of February, the Labor Department reported, New York’s seasonally unadjusted private employment count came to 8,208,600 payroll jobs. This statewide total was still 12,700 below the level of February 2020, the last month before the start of the instant recession triggered by Governor Cuomo’s “New York State on PAUSE” executive order, issued March 20, 2020.

Cuomo’s edict effectively shut down all retail stores, private and public offices, and other businesses except those deemed “essential,” a category that initially was limited to healthcare facilities, grocery stores and pharmacies, basic infrastructure, public transit and some other functions. He also banned “non-essential gatherings of individuals of any size for any reason,” which amounted to a broad stay-at-home order affecting nearly all New Yorkers.

Virtually overnight, the state lost nearly 2 million private jobs. Downtown business districts and suburban shopping strips became ghost towns and stayed that way throughout the spring of 2020. It was two months before Cuomo began lifting portions of the shutdown order for some regions of the state, and the most stringent limitations were not fully lifted until the end of June. With some regional variations, what followed were two years of state-mandated or -encouraged mask-wearing requirements and, starting in early 2021, proof-of-vaccine mandates that further hindered normal business activity.

Cuomo’s unprecedented order wasn’t unique, although it was among the more sweeping and longer-lasting shutdowns imposed by government officials across the country to limit the spread of the coronavirus. But the sluggishness of New York’s jobs recovery continues to stand out.

As shown below, private employment in the nation as a whole recovered to pre-pandemic levels nearly two full years ago, in April 2022, while job growth in New York State—which, notably, had begun to fall behind the national pace in April 2019—took a bigger initial hit and has continued to sputter and lag.


New York was one of only nine states whose February job counts were still below the February 2020 level (see below). Tourism-dependent Hawaii continues to have the largest post-pandemic job deficit, while only Illinois among large industrial states is further below its February 2020 employment level than New York.

The nation as a whole is up 4 million jobs (about 4 percent) since February 2020, with nearly half the total jobs added in Florida and Texas, which are both up nearly 10 percent over pre-pandemic levels. Private employment in California, which imposed pandemic restrictions rivaling New York’s, is up 1.8 percent (about 275,000 jobs) over 2020 levels.

Regional disparity

New York City was the national epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, accounting for a disproportionate share of all deaths and hospitalizations from the coronavirus. But the downstate region has been the first to fully recover to pre-COVID employment levels, while employment has yet to recover in upstate metro areas that had much lower COVID rates. The biggest persistent decline in private jobs, still down more than 10 percent since 2020, has been in non-metro rural areas—which, being less densely populated, were least susceptible to spreading COVID-19.




About the Author

E.J. McMahon

Edmund J. McMahon is Empire Center's founder and a senior fellow.

Read more by E.J. McMahon

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