Iowa’s unemployment rate is again near where it was before the pandemic hit more than a year ago, but the state’s leisure and hospitality industry now employs 25,000 fewer people than it did in February of 2020.

Jessica Dunker, president of the Iowa Restaurant Association, says many businesses that scaled back to follow health precautions are now looking to bring workers back.

Dunker says, “If April 5th offers everything it promises to, which is allowing any Iowan who wants to be able to get vaccinated the opportunity to go find an appointment, we expect a summer that will be vibrant and busy and really help us on the path to recovery.”

Job numbers in the industry may not add up to what they were before because Dunker says many restaurants are doing more take-out, which requires fewer workers. She says public health restrictions were a critical blow, but there is growing optimism as businesses reopen their patios and more people become vaccinated.

“As vaccines get out there, people are coming back out, the weather is warming, carry-out and delivery is now an integral part of what we’re doing,” Dunker says, “and so for restaurants and bars that made it to the other side, the future looks bright.”

Employment in all industries was down by more than 80,000 in Iowa from February of 2020 to February of 2021. While the greatest decline in job numbers from a year ago is in leisure and hospitality, that’s followed by education and health services, and government.

(By Grant Gerlock, Iowa Public Radio)