Houston: The Economy at a Glance is a free monthly publication, which offers the latest data along with expert commentary on the Houston region’s economy. Below is an excerpt from the report.
The outbreak has spurred Mayor Sylvester Turner to call for a two-week statewide shutdown. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has advocated for a broad stay-at-home order as well. The decision, however, rests with Texas Governor Greg Abbott, not local officials. Regardless what action he may take, the outbreak has postponed the start of any economic recovery.
The surge came as the economy showed hints of improvement. The U.S. logged substantial job gains in May and June. The number of workers filing claims for unemployment insurance has been trending down. Sales of new single-family houses rose in May. Retail sales have ticked up as has manufacturing output. Closer to home, the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) reported solid job gains for the state. Recent surveys by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas found that Texas service sector showed signs of growth in June and that factory activity rebounded as well. Houston reported job gains in April and May and single-family home sales set a record in June.
Initial claims for unemployment benefits peaked at 6.9 million in late March/early April. Google Trends, a website that analyzes the popularity of Google searches, shows that queries with the phrase “unemployment benefits” peaked at the same time. Searches using the selfsame term trended down through June 20 but have ticked up since then. Filtering for searches from only Houston IP addresses shows a slightly sharper increase in recent weeks. That suggests claims for unemployment benefits in Houston will remain elevated and likely rise over the next few weeks.
The popular website Yelp.com publishes crowd-sourced reviews on local restaurants, retailers, entertainment venues and personal services. Yelp reports that 177,000 U.S. business on its site were closed between March 1 and April 19. As of June 15, only 37,000 had reopened. In Houston, the pandemic forced the closure of 3,518 Yelp businesses, of which only 578 had reopened by mid-June. The website does not indicate what share of all Houston businesses this represents, but as a proxy for the region it suggests a substantial number of permanent closures have occurred over the past few weeks.