State jobless rate falls to record low as economy accelerates

December 26th, 2017

Houston Chronicle

         
Houston Chronicle

Unemployment rate in state fell to record 3.8 percent

The unemployment rate in Texas fell to a record low in November as the state added the largest number of jobs in the nation, boosted by growing construction, health care and retail sectors.

The state jobless rate slipped to 3.8 percent, down from 3.9 percent in October and 4.8 percent in November 2016, the Texas Workforce Commission reported Friday. Employers across the state expanded payrolls by almost 55,000 jobs last month – more than any other state – and brought job gains over the past year to more than 330,000. The employment growth rate of nearly 3 percent was nearly double that of last year and second among states to Utah.

In Houston, still shaking off the oil bust, growth was solid, but relatively subdued. Employment grew 1.6 percent over the past year as the metropolitan area gained about 48,000 jobs, including 11,000 in November.

But with oil prices climbing near $60 a barrel and roaring national economy adding more support, the job market appears to be gaining speed, following nearly two years of mass layoffs and hiring freezes. The region’s unemployment rate is down nearly a percentage point from a year ago, sliding to 4.3 percent from 5.2 percent in November 2016.

Keith Wolf, managing director of Houston staffing agency Murray Resources, said new job orders for Murray’s team of recruiters have increased by more than half compared to this time last year. The division that places workers in software, engineering and other technical jobs, he added, “is absolutely swamped.”

“The optimism is back,” Wolf said. “It’s not an employer’s market anymore. Companies are ready to pull the trigger quickly – they’re not waiting six months to make a hire.”

For Erin Hopple, finding a job in Houston only took about a month. The digital marketing specialist fielded recruiter calls, multiple interviews and two offers before landing a job. Plenty of Houston companies, she said, seemed eager to call her.

“They’re competing for employees at this point, especially for talent in unique fields,” said Hopple, who began her new job at Houston-based Medical Research Consultants, or MRC, in early December.

Economists say the Houston job market has rebounded from Hurricane Harvey, which was blamed for the loss of 20,000 local jobs in September.

The region added more than 30,000 jobs in October and November, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

But underlying job growth in the region is unlikely to accelerate until oil companies start hiring again, economists said. Even though the number of rigs working in oil fields across the United States has more than doubled since the summer of 2016, Houston’s energy employment growth has stayed flat.

Last month, Houston added 300 jobs in the mining and logging job category, which encompasses the oil and gas industry. For the year, the region has added 900 new energy jobs.

But after losing some 70,000 energy jobs, even tiny gains are welcome. “Flat is the new up,” said Patrick Jankowski, director of research at the Greater Houston Partnership. “After so many bad months it’s finally looking pretty good.”

Across Texas, the oil industry added 1,300 jobs last month, and about 32,800 since this time last year.

Several other sectors in Houston are growing. In retail, local employers added 2,100 jobs over the past year. Professional services firms expanded payrolls by 13,600 since November 2016; transportation, warehousing and utilities added 1,200, manufacturing 13,000 and government 7,800.

Statewide, the construction sector added 8,200 jobs last month and retail, 6,300. In leisure and hospitality, which includes restaurants and hotels, jobs increased by 8,000,

Health care added 6,700, manufacturing 2,700 and real estate 2,400.

“The jobs rebound in October and November puts state job growth back on track to finish the year strong,” said Keith Phillips, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

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