People are finding jobs in Waco, enough that the unemployment rate dropped almost a percentage point, to 5.4% last month, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.
But economists with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas warn that the state’s continuing recovery may screech to a halt through the end of the year, as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations mount and residents, wary of being infected, become more cautious about venturing out.
Figures released Friday show an estimated 600 people were added to local employment rolls between September and October. The Waco Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Falls and McLennan counties, had the seventh-lowest jobless rate among the 25 largest MSAs in Texas last month.
Its rate also was below those of Texas, 6.7%, and the United States, 6.6%, according to the workforce commission’s non-seasonally-adjusted tally.
“Hiring is taking place,” said David Davis, who oversees operations at Workforce Solutions for the Heart of Texas.
The Workforce Solutions office on New Road normally welcomes job seekers to use its resources. COVID-19 has altered that approach, with employment searches now taking place remotely, Davis said.
But Davis said he senses that progress is being made, that lookers and employers are linking up more frequently than when COVID-19 exploded earlier in the year, causing jobless rates to skyrocket.
The Waco MSA jobless rate peaked at 11.1% in April, steadily dropped until suffering an uptick in September to 6.3%, and now has dropped again.
The leisure and hospitality industry, which includes lodging, remains a sore spot locally and statewide. About 2,000 local positions have been lost in that sector year-over-year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Around Texas, employment levels are about 207,000 less than those one year ago.
Other areas of employment are bouncing back, even thriving.
Construction employment last month was up an estimated 800 from the same month last year. Manufacturing enjoyed a 200-person increase, while employment in education and health services is up an estimated 1,400 people. Professional and business services has seen a 800-person jump.
Trade/Transportation/Utilities saw a 300-person decrease, while “other services” and government suffered declines of 200 and 100, respectively.
“While the unemployment rate captures only a snapshot of our economy at a specific moment in time, the job growth we have seen over the past six months shows an enduring strength in the state’s economy,” Texas Workforce Commission Chair Bryan Daniel said in a press release.
Texas’ private sector added 136,300 jobs between September and October. Its jobless rate slipped from 8.2% in September to 6.7% in October, according to non-seasonally-adjusted calculations.
In October, the professional and business services sector in Texas added 45,200 jobs, “the largest monthly increase recorded for this industry since the series began in 1990,” according the workforce commission press release.
“While the economy may look a bit different, one thing holds true: skilled workers are in-demand,” workforce commission labor representative Julian Alvarez said in the press release.
The Dallas Federal Reserve Bank issued a more sobering analysis, saying it expects jobs recovery in Texas to “decelerate in the last two months of the year,” due in part to COVID-19 infection rates and oil futures prices.
Texas has lost 704,400 jobs year-to-date and will have lost 721,700 jobs by the time 2020 draws to a close, according to the Dallas Fed’s “Texas Employment Forecast“ published Friday.
“Although October saw a pickup in job growth, the Texas economy has begun to slow with the surging infection and hospitalization rates from COVID-19,” Dallas Fed senior economist Keith Phillips said in the forecast. “As a result, we expect some pullback in the recovery through the end of the year as people are more cautious about face-to-face interactions, disproportionately affecting the service sector.”