Metro Houston created a net 18,500 jobs from January through May. In non-boom/non-bust years, the region typically adds 12,000 to 25,000 jobs in the first five months of the year. The gains in '23 reflect an economy that’s neither in a boom nor bust cycle.
Metro Houston employment hit 3,354,300 in May '23, an all-time high. Since the economy reopened in May '20, the region has added 521,800 jobs, recovering 145.2 percent of the 359,300 jobs lost early in the pandemic. At the current pace of growth, local employment should top 3.4 million later this year.
The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) typically reports job losses for the region every January. Workers hired for the holiday season are released. Layoffs on hold until the new year finally take place. And TWC makes annual adjustments to its employment database. As of May, four sectors had yet to recoup January’s losses or have reported additional layoffs since—construction (-7,400 jobs), retail (-7,200), transportation and warehousing (-5,200), and finance (-2,000). Interest rates are weighing on finance and construction. The retail losses reflect seasonal patterns. It’s unclear what’s impacting transportation and warehousing.
Metro Houston added over 49,200 workers to its labor force through May and 88,000 over the past 12 months. The surge includes young adults seeking their first job, Houstonians who were on hiatus re-entering the labor market, and new residents to the region. In May '23, Houston’s workforce hit a record 3,587,296. The metro area now has a larger workforce than 35 states and the District of Columbia.
Houston’s unemployment rate fell as low as 3.9 percent in April '23 but jumped to 4.4 percent in May. A year ago, it was 4.3 percent.
The rate always rises in the spring as students look for summer jobs, recent grads enter the workforce, and educators pursue new options as the school year ends. In a few months, those students return to school, the grads find work, educators sign new contracts, and the unemployment rate declines. Between June and December, the rate often falls by 0.5 and 1.0 percentage points. Given the health of Houston’s economy, that’s sure to happen again this year.
Initial claims for unemployment benefits, a proxy for layoffs, have crept up. In January, they averaged 3,982 a week. Late May and early June, they averaged 5,245.
This also reflects a seasonal pattern. Claims creep up in the summer as educators whose contracts have expired file for benefits. This summer’s filings, though elevated compared to last year, represent less than 0.2 percent of the region’s roughly 3.6 million workers.
The sectors with the most claims in recent weeks are elementary and secondary education, machine repair and maintenance, oil pipeline construction, and temporary help services.
Continued claims filed by workers unemployed for at least a week after their initial claim are trending up as well, which suggests that workers who lose their jobs are experiencing some difficulty in finding new employment. Those claims remain low, however.
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Note: The geographic area referred to in this publication as “Houston,” "Houston Area” and “Metro Houston” is the nine-county Census designated metropolitan statistical area of Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX. The nine counties are: Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery and Waller.