Waco could not escape the hiring malaise that settled over Texas last month, its jobless rate increasing to 6.6%, the Texas Workforce Commission reported Friday.
Metropolitan Statistical Areas statewide felt the pain and almost all watched their jobless rate increase at least a percentage point between October and November. Texas saw its non-seasonally adjusted rate leap from 6.7% to 8.0% month-to-month. Its seasonally adjusted rate hit 8.1%, according to the U.S. Labor Department.
The Waco MSA, which includes Falls and McLennan counties, suffered with the rest of Texas, but its 6.6% mark is seventh-best among 27 MSAs. Beaumont-Port Arthur, Corpus Christi, Odessa and McAllen-Edinburg-Mission are staggering along at 11.8%, 10.0%, 11.4% and 12.5%, respectively.
Amarillo had the lowest jobless rate statewide at 5.4%.
Waco’s unemployment rate was 5.3% in October.
“An increase in the unemployment rate between October and November is unusual, but we have to blame it on unusual circumstances, that being COVID-19, period,” said Karr Ingham, a state economist who prepares a monthly report called the Greater Waco Economic Index.
Ingham said surging jobless numbers in November following an unexpected rate increase in September points to a choppy economic recovery.
“But it is still a recovery,” Ingham said. “The Waco economy has done very well since being hammered earlier in the year. It lost more than 11,000 jobs, but had gained approximately 10,900 of those back. This November spike reflects volatility as the economy tries to regain its footing.”
Ingham said a clearer picture should emerge in February, when the Texas Workforce Commission completes its annual revision process.
Waco-based economist Ray Perryman said in an email response to questions that November numbers reflect an uneven pattern of recovery that is to be expected “as the timing of businesses opening and closing and people leaving and re-entering the workforce changes month to month.”
He said Texas added 61,000 jobs in November, more than any other state.
“However, the labor force grew even more, pushing up the number of unemployed and, therefore, the unemployment rate,” Perryman wrote. “That is not necessarily a bad sign, as it indicates more people are seeking to return to the workforce. Texas employment remains well below pre-pandemic levels, and this November’s jobs estimate is 474,200 below last November.”
The severity of bumps on the road to recovery will depend on the future pattern in virus cases; the magnitude, timing and nature of new federal stimulus programs; and the timing of broad-based vaccinations and improved therapeutics, Perryman wrote.
“The prior peaks will likely be achieved in late 2021 or early 2022,” he said.
Officials have said it likely will take until the summer for COVID-19 vaccines to be available to anyone who wants one.
As the vaccine is more widely distributed to the general public, the state’s unemployment rate could see “a significant drop,” possibly to the pre-pandemic rate of roughly 3.5%, Vivian Ho, the James A. Baker III Institute chair in health economics at Rice University, told The Texas Tribune.
“I could see us getting to 5% or 6%. I’d be confident in that,” she said.
Waco’s jobless rate stood at 3.1% in November last year, when employment in Falls and McLennan counties reached an estimated 123,300.
The Texas Workforce Commission estimated Friday that local employment stood at 121,000.
Also Friday, the workforce commission released a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification, or WARN, confirming the local Manitou plant is closing effective Feb. 26, a move eliminating almost 150 jobs. Company officials have said the layoffs would start in February and continue in phases through the summer.