To determine which places have experienced the biggest growth in employment, we used the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Employment Statistics (CES) to analyze nonfarm payrolls from 389 of the largest metro areas in the U.S., in terms of their one-year growth (May 2020 to 2021 and June 2020 to 2021) in absolute numbers and by percentage. All metro areas were scored and then ranked to come up with the final list.
1. Ocean City, New Jersey
One of New Jersey’s biggest beach destinations, Ocean City took the impact of the pandemic very hard in 2020, shedding thousands of jobs that were utterly dependent on summer tourism. In May 2020, there were only roughly 32,600 employees on nonfarm payrolls, which is less than any month of May going back to at least 2011; in May 2011, Ocean City reported a less-than-average total nonfarm payroll of 40,500 employees, which remained the lowest monthly amount all the way up until May 2020. Last May was so bad that there were actually more people employed in the month of March 2020 (hardly a time for beach weather in New Jersey) with 34,900 versus 32,600 in May.
Since last year, the labor market has improved dramatically in Ocean City. From May 2020 to May 2021, nonfarm payroll increased by 44.5% — from roughly 32,600 to 47,100 employees — and from June 2020 to June 2021, it increased by another 38.9% — from 41,400 to 57,500.
2. Atlantic City, New Jersey
Just north of Ocean City is another major tourist destination on the Jersey Shore: Atlantic City. Across the country, the casino industry got especially rocked by the pandemic, particularly in the early months. Atlantic City was no exception, seeing nonfarm employment going from about 133,000 in May 2019, down to only 86,000 people employed in May 2020, a decline of more than 35% in just a year. But from there things have gotten better, with Atlantic City posting an increase of 40.7% in nonfarm employment from May 2020 to 2021, and 36.8% from June 2020 to 2021. In raw numbers, the growth is impressive as well, with 35,000 jobs being added from May 2020 to 2021, and another 33,600 from June 2020 to 2021.
3. Barnstable, Massachusetts
Located on Cape Cod, Barnstable is typically a bustling tourist town during the summer, but in 2020, Covid-19 had other plans. As the pandemic made its initial impact in early 2020, employment in Barnstable nosedived. In March 2020, nonfarm employment stood at 96,000, before plunging more than 20% to reach a mere 76,700 jobs in April 2020. Employment rose in May 2020, reaching about 83,800 employees, but this was down more than 20,000 jobs from May 2019.
The job market in Barnstable has improved markedly in 2021, with nonfarm employment growing by 22% from May 2020 to 2021, from 83,800 to 102,200 employees. Year-over-year growth from last June is also impressive, with nonfarm payroll rising by almost 18%, reaching a projected 110,600 employees in June 2021 — the highest figure since September 2019 when it was 111,100.
4. Kahului, Hawaii
The Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina metro area encompasses the entire island of Maui and, like all of Hawaii, its local economy was ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. In fact, unemployment in Kahului reached 35% in April 2020, which is 10% higher than the peak unemployment rate reached by the U.S. during the Great Depression, according to ABC News. Nonfarm payrolls in the Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina metro area never fell below 80,000 for a single month in 2019. Come April 2020 and employment had collapsed, falling to a mere 53,100 jobs. From April 2020 until March 2021, monthly nonfarm employment in the Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina area would never rise above 60,000. Finally, the labor market showed signs of recovery in spring 2021, with the number of nonfarm employees growing by nearly 18% for both one-year periods May 2020-to-2021 and June 2020-to-2021.
5. Las Vegas, Nevada
Atlantic City might have suffered greater proportional losses in jobs, but Las Vegas’s decline in absolute numbers from 2019 to 2020 was staggering. From April 2019 to 2020, the Las Vegas area shed roughly 250,800 jobs; from May 2019 to 2020, nonfarm employment was even worse, with the number of employees down by 25.2%, from an estimated 1,036,400 in May 2019, to an abysmal 774,900 in May 2020. Fortunately, 2021 brought some remarkable recoveries in the Las Vegas area labor market. Nonfarm payrolls reported employment was up more than 22%, from under 775,000 in May 2020, to more than 947,000 in May 2021.
6. Glens Falls, New York
The Glens Falls metro area is on the south side of Lake George in Upstate New York. As the pandemic wreaked havoc throughout New York in the first half of 2020, Glens Falls witnessed a massive drop in jobs. Nonfarm employment went from 52,800 in April 2019, down to 42,400 in April 2020, a one-year decline of close to 20%. May and June 2020 weren’t much better, posting three consecutive months of total nonfarm employment falling below 50,000, which had never happened before going all the way back to January 2011. In early 2021, Glens Falls began showing signs of life, reporting an increase of 17.2% in employment from May 2020 to 2021, and an increase of 14.5% from June 2020 to June 2021.
7. East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania
The East Stroudsburg metro area is in the Poconos region of Pennsylvania, a major center of tourism whether it’s skiing in the winter or camping and water parks in the summer. The city of East Stroudsburg itself is a college town, home to East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania. Both factors, being a tourist spot and a college town, contributed to East Stroudsburg taking a severe hit to its economy from the pandemic. Whereas average employment hovered between 58,000 and 61,000 every month in 2019, nonfarm employment sunk to a historic low of 43,000 in April 2020, and for the next two months remained below 50,000. Finally, in April 2021, nonfarm payrolls reported a year-over-year increase, with employment growing by 26% since April 2020, reaching 54,200 jobs. May and June 2021 continued the uptrend as East Stroudsburg continues to claw its way back to pre-pandemic employment levels.
8. Flint, Michigan
This former industrial powerhouse of a city and birthplace of General Motors
When the pandemic struck, the Flint metro area lost almost 37,000 jobs from March to April 2020 (from 137,000 down to 100,100). Year on year, employment was down more than 28% from April 2019 to 2020, and down almost 22% from May 2019 to 2020. When the pandemic showed signs of mitigating in early 2021, Flint’s employment numbers recovered substantially. From a historic monthly low of 106,800 in May 2020, nonfarm employment in the Flint metro area soared back to 131,500 in May 2021, for a year-over-year increase of 23.1%. In June 2021, nonfarm employment rose to roughly 132,600, the highest level since March 2020 when it stood at 137,000.
9. Salisbury, Maryland
The Salisbury metro area encompasses a few southern counties of Delaware and eastern Maryland (across the Chesapeake Bay from the rest of the state). This metro area has grown steadily and inexorably over the years, from a population of less than 375,000 in 2010 to 423,481 in 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The Salisbury metro area also includes several big beach resort towns, such as Ocean City, Maryland, and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, which made it particularly vulnerable when the pandemic struck.
In Salisbury, nonfarm employment in April 2019 stood at 160,800, but a year later as the Covid-19 crisis took its toll, that figure had plummeted to 129,700, for a loss of over 30,000 jobs. May 2020 also saw a 19% decrease in nonfarm payroll numbers compared to the year before. Although the spread of the delta variant is clouding the future, Salisbury has recovered significantly in 2021. From a historic trough of 129,700 employed in April 2020, job figures are up, with 157,500 reported in April 2021, 163,000 in May 2021, and 171,200 in June 2021.
10. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Gettysburg is the second metro area from Pennsylvania to make this list and it shares several characteristics with the other metro area, East Stroudsburg: Both cities are relatively small in themselves but serve as the center of the larger local economy; both have their tourist attractions that normally draw people and business year after year; and both were severely disrupted by the impact of the pandemic.
In 2019, month-to-month employment was pretty steady, ranging from a low of 34,400 nonfarm employees in January to a high of 35,800 in April. A year later, the labor market in the Gettysburg area had seen nonfarm employment fall by almost 25%, from 35,800 in April 2019, down to 26,900 in April 2020. That’s lowest monthly level of employment in the Gettysburg metro area since March 1993, when it was 26,800. But from these depths, the labor market has climbed back out. In May 2021, employment in the Gettysburg area had grown by nearly 20% from May 2020. With 34,200 people on payroll that month, May 2021 was the best month for jobs since March 2020.