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

You may also like

State Offers Taxpayer-Funded Health Coverage to Unionized Home Care Workers

In a new subsidy for the health-care union 1199 SEIU, the Hochul administration is allowing the union's benefit fund for home care aides to shift some members into taxpayer-funded health coverage through the Essential Plan. Read More

A Closer Look at $4 Billion in State Capital Grants to Health Providers

[Editor's note: This post was corrected after it came to light that records supplied by the Health Department gave wrong addresses for 44 grant recipients. The statistics and tables below were updated on July 18.] Read More

NY’s net taxpayer migration loss dropped a bit in 2021-22, latest IRS data show

The outflow of New York taxpayers to the rest of the country subsided from the previous year's record high during the second tax-filing period following the March 2020 COVID-19 outbreak, according to the latest (IRS). Read More

Hochul’s Pandemic Study Is a $4.3 Million Flop

The newly released study of New York's coronavirus pandemic response falls far short of what Governor Hochul promised – and the state urgently needs – in the aftermath of its worst natural disaster in modern history. Read More

NY’s biggest public pension fund gained nearly 12% in FY 2024

Rebounding from its biggest loss since the Global Financial Crisis, New York's Common Retirement Fund realized a strong investment gain of 11.55 percent in fiscal year 2024, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli announced. The Fund, which now stands just below $268 billion, supports pensions paid to members of the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS). Read More

82 Questions Hochul’s Pandemic Report Should Answer

This is the month when New Yorkers are due to finally receive an official report on the state's response to the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the deadliest disasters in state history. T Read More

The Real Lack of Courage Driving NYC Congestion Pricing

Governor Hochul is taking heat after postponing the state’s years-old plan to charge drivers to enter lower Manhattan. As critics slam her for lacking “political courage,” it’s an appropriate time to examine some of the underlying issues that congestion pricing was meant to indirectly mitigate—because many if not most advocates were afraid to touch those issues themselves. And if congestion pricing proponents are to be taken at their word about their concern for MTA finances, or traffic, or air quality, they must show some of the same courage they’ve accused the governor of lacking. Read More

To Encourage Recycling, Pols Move To Trash The Legislature

New York state lawmakers in recent years have surrendered some of their policymaking and taxing powers to the executive branch. With the 2024 legislative session coming to close, they’re poised to go even further and turn those powers over to an organization outside of government entirely. Read More