Job gains were concentrated in two sectors, public education (19,800) and employment services (11,200). The gains in education reflect teachers and administrators returning to campus for the new school year. The hiring in employment services suggests firms are turning to contract workers to fill in the gaps until permanent workers can be hired. However, there’s a strong possibility that TWC has overestimated growth in the sector. The 11,200 jobs added in the month exceeds the total growth for the sector in 19 of the past 20 years.
A handful of sectors reported nominal gains: ambulatory health care, energy, manufacturing, and transportation. As the pandemic wanes (hopefully), patients are scheduling doctor visits again, hence the gains in ambulatory health care. Energy is finally benefitting from higher oil prices. The need to replenish inventories has helped manufacturing. The gains in transportation/warehousing suggest local firms are making progress in resolving supply chain issues.
September saw substantial losses in restaurants and bars (7,000 jobs) and minor losses in retail (1,200). Both reflect consumers pulling back in late August and early September as the Delta variant swept through the region. Construction of buildings shed jobs (1,900) in September, the result of office construction winding down.
To date, metro Houston has recouped 245,600 of the 361,400 jobs lost in the early stages of the pandemic. Most of the sectors impacted by Stay Home, Work Safe practices have fully recovered or soon will recover. These include ambulatory healthcare, computer systems design, employment services, general merchandise stores, insurance, legal services, refining, services to buildings, transportation/warehousing.
As noted in past issues of Glance, four sectors continue to struggle: construction, energy, manufacturing, and wholesale trade. They account for 70,600 jobs, or 61.0 percent of what Houston needs to return to pre-COVID employment levels. Their struggles have distorted the progress Houston has made toward recovering the pandemic losses. If one excludes “the four” from the calculations, Houston has recouped 86.4 percent of the jobs lost in the pandemic. These industries, which once drove Houston’s growth, now impede its recovery.
But there’s hope. Recent groundbreakings on several mega projects—TMC3, Levit Green and East River—may provide some relief to the construction industry. West Texas Intermediate has traded above $70 per barrel since mid-September, providing additional cash flow to the oil and gas industry. Any improvement in energy should help local manufacturing and wholesale trade.
Houston’s unemployment rate fell to 5.5 percent in September, the lowest level since March ’20. The rate remains above that for Texas (4.9 percent) and the U.S. (4.6 percent). The rates are not seasonally adjusted.
Two decades ago, Houston could claim its unemployment rate consistently tracked below that of the nation. Since the mid-’10s, that claim is no longer valid. Houston’s rate typically aligns with or exceeds that of the U.S.
Metro Houston averaged 5,000 initial weekly claims for unemployment benefits in the month of October. That’s down from 9,800 the same month in ’20 and from 65,000 per week in April ’20.
Fewer workers are filing continued claims for benefits as well, just over 28,000 in September ’21, plummeting from 195,000 in September ’20. The ranks of Houston’s unemployed are approaching pre-pandemic levels.
The region’s workforce continues to recover. Approximately 280,000 Houstonians (on net) dropped out of the labor force in the early stages of the pandemic. All but 55,000 have returned. Houstonians who stood on the sidelines are rejoining the workforce. Young adults coming of age are entering the labor market. And workers from other metros and other countries are moving here for job opportunities.
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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.