With Amazon promising 1,000 new jobs locally and Waco’s impressive tourism industry rounding into form, the jobless rate appears likely to continue dropping as it did in April, dipping to 5.1% from 6.1% in March.
Among 27 major metropolitan areas in Texas, Waco had the seventh-lowest unemployment rate last month, the Texas Workforce Commission reports.
Karr Ingham, an economist who tracks local trends to prepare the Greater Waco Economic Index, said Waco has virtually recovered the jobs lost since March and April last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic surfaced.
In fact, help-wanted signs are flourishing around the community, with some employers publicly fretting about jobs going begging.
“It’s not enough to have job openings,” said Waco-based economist Ray Perryman. “There also have to be workers ready, willing and able to fill those jobs for employment levels to rise. Many job openings are indeed going unfilled. However, there were widespread labor shortages before the pandemic. In early 2020, pre-COVID, there were far more job openings in Texas than unemployed workers, despite the fact that 1.1 million undocumented people went to jobs every day.”
Perryman said the situation “reflects demographic patterns which haven’t materially changed,” despite the pandemic’s intervention.
“With the aging of baby boomers, labor shortages are likely throughout the decade and beyond. There are also skills mismatches and safety concerns among some workers,” Perryman said. “While the evidence suggests the numbers are relatively small, there could be some workers staying on the sidelines due to the extra unemployment benefits which have been available.”
But Perryman reminded that those benefits are on the way out.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott last week informed the U.S. Department of Labor that Texas will opt out of further federal unemployment compensation related to the COVID-19 pandemic effective June 25.
This includes the $300 weekly unemployment supplement from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program.
“The Texas economy is booming and employers are hiring in communities throughout the state,” Abbott said. “According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the number of job openings in Texas is almost identical to the number of Texans who are receiving unemployment benefits.
“That assessment does not include the voluminous jobs that typically are not listed, like construction and restaurant jobs,” Abbott continued. “In fact, there are nearly 60% more jobs open, and listed, in Texas today than there was in February 2020, the month before the pandemic hit Texas.”
His release added: “The current job openings are good paying jobs. According to the TWC, nearly 45% of posted jobs offer wages greater than $15.50 per hour. Approximately 76% pay more than $11.50 per hour. Only 2% of posted jobs pay around the minimum wage,” currently $7.25 an hour.
Non-seasonally adjusted figures the TWC released Friday show the statewide unemployment rate dropped to 6.3% in April from 7.1% in March. Texas has added 1,007,100 jobs over the year after shedding 1.45 million jobs in March and April 2020 due to measures taken to slow the coronavirus spread.
The leisure and hospitality industry, hit hard by the pandemic, added 14,100 jobs in April statewide. But Perryman said those gains and others in business and professional services were partly offset by losses in construction, manufacturing, and mining and logging, which in Texas is oil and gas activity.
Texas’ jobless rate in May remained above the nation’s 5.7%.
“The bottom line is that while we’re moving in the right direction overall, there are still bumps in the road,” Perryman concluded.
The same might be said of Waco’s performance the past year.
In April a year ago, about 12,000 people were jobless and the unemployment rate stood at 12.1%, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. Those numbers have improved to 6,600 and 5.1%, respectively.
But Waco’s jobless rate was less than 3.5% in February last year.
The TWC reports that 129,300 people were either looking for jobs or were employed locally in April, a number representing the Waco area’s civilian labor force. That’s 10,000 more than the civilian labor force in April last year, indicating people are moving to McLennan County to find work, or have found work in what some would consider a greatly improving area economy.
Written by Mike Copeland