How California theme park job losses compare to Florida

California theme parks have shed 44,000 jobs during the pandemic and amusement park employment in the state has hit record lows as coronavirus closures of the major tourist destinations stretch toward a year, according to a new industry report.

A new report by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions compares the vastly different approaches taken toward theme parks during the pandemic by California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Theme park job losses were higher in California than the other 48 states combined excluding Florida. California lost 17,000 more theme park jobs than Florida even though the amusement park industry employs 25,000 more workers in Florida.

After theme parks on both coasts closed in March, Florida moved to reopen Disney, Universal and SeaWorld parks in the state as soon as possible while California has kept Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood and other theme parks closed for more than 11 months. No COVID-19 outbreaks have been traced to amusement parks around the world, according to the California Attractions and Parks Association.

IAAPA historian Jim Futrell used amusement parks and arcades employment and wage data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to compile a 33-page report on the impact of COVID-19 on the U.S. theme park industry.

“In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the attractions industry has faced its greatest crisis since World War II,” Futrell wrote in the report. “At one point in April, nearly every attraction in the world was closed as the pandemic spread globally.”

U.S. amusement parks saw employment drop from a record high of 275,000 jobs in July 2019 to 162,300 a year later, according to the IAAPA report. The 41% decline brought U.S. amusement park summertime employment to its lowest level since 1990 — the farthest the data goes back.

California and Florida — the two largest employers in the industry — account for roughly half of U.S. amusement park employment in the summer and even more during the off season.

Theme park employees in both California and Florida have been hit hard by the pandemic. California accounted for 39% of U.S. amusement park job losses between July 2019 and July 2020 while another 24% of industry jobs were lost in Florida, according to the IAAPA report.

Both California and Florida saw more than 80% drops in amusement park employment in May following the initial wave of coronavirus to hit the U.S. Florida quickly reopened theme parks and by July industry unemployment was down 30% compared to a year earlier. Some California parks partially reopened for special events without rides — causing industry unemployment to be down 70% by September.

California lost 44,000 theme park jobs — dropping from 57,900 in July 2019 to 13,900 in July 2020, according to the IAAPA report. Florida lost nearly 27,000 theme park jobs during the same period — declining from 83,000 to 56,200. The other 48 states saw amusement parks shed more than 42,000 jobs — dropping from 134,800 to 92,200.

Nationally, amusement park employment loss has been five times larger than the U.S. average, according to the IAAPA report. U.S. theme park wages fell $756 million — more than 50% — from 2019 to 2020.

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