The 10 Industries That Have Been Impacted the Most by COVID-19

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There are very few industries that were not heavily affected by the coronavirus pandemic. From food service to airlines, some of the biggest employers in the country were stunned by losses as public safety measures meant to limit the spread of the virus also tanked company revenues. This translated to significant job losses, pushing unemployment numbers to record highs only surpassed by the Great Depression and dropping the U.S. into the next recession since 2008.

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Many industries, like food service and fitness, figured out workarounds such as takeout food and outdoor exercise classes, while other industries that rely primarily upon in-person, indoor activities and services have simply had to sit by and wait, watching their losses stack up. Here is a list of the 10 industries that have been hardest hit by COVID-19.

Last updated: March 10, 2021


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While every industry has been affected by COVID-19, healthcare is one of the most intimately involved with the mechanisms of the virus itself. COVID-19 has affected how healthcare is delivered, how clinicians and staff can interact with patients and more. According to the American Hospital Association, the hospital industry saw a $323.1 billion loss in income in 2020, as elective and non-emergency procedures were all pushed to the wayside out of safety. Hospital workers also have faced greater levels of risk from the virus itself. Healthcare has begun to reinvent itself through telemedicine, but it may be years before it rebounds financially.

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The airline industry took a sizable hit to the tune of $35 billion in 2020, according to CNBC. American Airlines’ stock dropped 45% in 2020, while Delta lost 31% and United plummeted 51%. Safety rules reduced the number of flights and the number of passengers that could travel early on. And even though many airlines have increased their flights since, spikes in the virus, slow vaccine roll-outs and restrictions imposed by various states and countries continue to limit air travel. Bloomberg predicts the industry will only rebound by about 13% in 2021, not enough to make up for losses.

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According to the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) “State of the Hotel Industry, 2021 report” the hotel industry is still in dire straits more than a year after the pandemic began. They estimated, back in 2020, that as many as 70% of hotels would likely not survive without federal or state assistance and that as many as 59% were in danger of foreclosure. Those that survive must do things differently, including stricter sanitation policies and changes in housekeeping procedures, which impacts the livelihoods of housekeeping and janitorial staff.

More: Experts Predict Which Industries Will Fail in 2021

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Technology Sector

Technology might seem like the one industry that escaped losses due to an exponential increase in usage of services such as Zoom, WhatsApp video calls, Google Hangouts and others. But technology suffered losses related to a disruption in the materials supply chain. However, due to the uptake in those same successful technologies, experts predict that the tech sector will go from $131 billion in revenue in 2020 to $295 billion by 2025.

Read: 25 Tried-and-True Jobs That Will Last Through Any Recession

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COVID-19 has had a huge impact on fitness centers and gyms, which used to rely upon in-person memberships to drive income. During the pandemic, fitness giants like Gold’s Gym and 24 Hour Fitness both filed for bankruptcy, as they were dealing with negative cash flow. Some reinvented themselves with online classes and eventually – as things opened back up – outdoor classes, but the future of gyms remains in question. More and more people have begun to spend money on home gym equipment, Peloton bikes and other personal fitness options to be able to work out from home.

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Restaurants and Food Service

Of the hard-hit industries of the pandemic, the restaurant industry has undoubtedly been among the worst affected. According to Statista, the food services industry lost $130 billion in revenue between March and October 2020 as shelter-in-place orders and limits on capacity curbed their ability to feed people. This translated to a loss of 2.1 million jobs and an estimated 110,000 restaurants closed either permanently or long-term. Those that have survived have largely done so on takeout alone. While loosening restrictions, including outdoor eating options and indoor dining with limited capacity, have helped the industry to rebound slightly, experts don’t predict a full recovery for those that survive until at least 2023.

Find Out: How Much Americans Spent on Takeout Amid the Pandemic

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Beauty and Personal Care

All the people who attend to our personal care–our hair, nails, beards and bodies–have been hit significantly by the pandemic, as these jobs involve contact that can’t be socially distanced and are typically performed indoors, according to California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office. Since hairstylists, barbers, nail salon workers and massage therapists typically earn tips, many are also paid minimum wage or less, making it harder for them to receive significant unemployment benefits.

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Sports and the Performing Arts

Performing arts and spectator sports saw a loss of 45.4% of jobs just from February to April 2020 as shelter-in-place mandates and public safety restrictions impinged upon sports arenas, theaters, orchestra halls and other concert venues, according to Business Insider. Though the show did go on with the 55th Super Bowl in February 2021, it was held in an outdoor arena filled at only 22% capacity. Of those in attendance, 7,500 were vaccinated frontline workers.

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Movie Theaters

The movie theater experience may be a dinosaur about to go extinct thanks to the coronavirus. Due to lockdowns and safety mandates, many movie theaters around the U.S. have had to remain closed for a significant part of the pandemic. According to MarketWatch, the entertainment and media business, which is a $2.1 trillion industry, contracted by approximately 5.6% — or $117.6 billion — in 2020. Now that many major motion picture companies are streaming their latest blockbusters for a limited time on services such as HBO Max and Disney+, the question remains if movie theaters will be able to survive in a post-pandemic world. The movie chain AMC reported that even after reopening 83% of its theaters toward the end of 2020, it still saw an 85% decline in attendance compared with the same time period in 2019.

See: Why Retail Traders Expect a Movie Revival Post Pandemic

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Shelter-in-place orders and restrictions on customers inside brick-and-mortar retail stores decreased retail revenues significantly in 2020, with big retailers like Macy’s, Kohl’s and Nordstrom topping lists of steepest losses, according to RetailDive. The bigger box stores have the most financial padding to recover, but many smaller businesses took hits that may be harder to recover from. Stores have had to reconfigure practices to arrange for online shopping, contactless and curbside pick-up as ways to continue to meet consumer needs and generate revenue.

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