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Chamber of Commerce offers rosy jobs report

Wednesday, March 16, 2022 by Jo Clifton

Austin has once again come out as a top city in the country economically, as shown by a new report on job growth and unemployment from the Austin Chamber of Commerce. Researchers at the chamber found that Austin ranked number one among the top 50 metro areas in the U.S. based on regaining pre-pandemic jobs and adding new ones.

Austin had an estimated 1,142,500 jobs in February 2020. But the city lost 137,100 jobs, or 12 percent, in March and April of that year. By May 2021, the city had recovered significantly, regaining those jobs and adding more.

As chamber president and CEO Laura Huffman said Tuesday, “The highlight of the report is we’ve made up the 2020 pandemic-related job losses … and there are now 58,000 more jobs” than in February 2020 when the pandemic began.

She added, “So all indications are that the economy has recovered and is growing. I think that’s demonstrated a level of resilience that Austin has shown over and over again – when there’s either a downturn in the economy nationally, a natural disaster, now a pandemic, Austin has proven to be very resilient. And I think these numbers show that.”

Austin gained 58,100 “non-farm” jobs or 5.1 percent over the two-year period, for a total of 1,200,600 jobs, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. Dallas ranked just behind Austin, adding 3.8 percent during the same time frame. No other Texas cities ranked within the top 10. Fort Worth and San Antonio ranked 12 and 13, while Houston lost 2.1 percent of its jobs over the past two years and ranked 22.

Austin’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for both January and December was 3.2 percent.

Mayor Steve Adler told the Austin Monitor via email, “Much like the rest of the country, Austin experienced economic hardship during the pandemic. It is our ability to rebound so well and so quickly that is a testament to our resiliency and to the people who make Austin their home.”

According to the report, “In Austin, all 11 major private industry sectors added jobs over the last 12 months, most notably leisure and hospitality,” which accounted for a 19 percent increase or 20,200 jobs. However, as in many other cities, employment in Austin’s hospitality industry continues to be challenging, with the current level of employment 6.5 percent lower than in February 2020.

Overall, Texas regained its pandemic-related job losses in October, six months after Austin did. Private-sector job growth in the Austin metropolitan area was 10.2 percent, or 94,300 jobs as of January. However, jobs within the government sector shrunk by about 2,000 jobs or 2 percent.

Huffman said the chamber works closely with high schools, Austin Community College and four-year institutions to inform them about what jobs will be available in the near future. Right now, the chamber’s data show the greatest amount of job growth in the professional and business services sector. That information allows graduates to stay in town, she said, while acknowledging that finding housing can prove challenging.

The Monitor asked members of Council to comment on the report. Council members Natasha Harper-Madison and Chito Vela both said they remain concerned about where Austinites can find a place to live.

Vela said, “Austin’s doing great when it comes to employment, but we must build housing that matches the number of jobs coming into the city. Employment alone isn’t enough when rent and mortgages are skyrocketing.”

Harper-Madison said via email, “The proof is in the pudding: Austin’s economy remains undefeated. However, we still have a lot of work to do to make sure our working- and middle-class neighbors can afford to stay in the city whose welcoming, progressive culture they contribute so much to. Whether it’s advocating for better wages or working to build more kinds of housing in more parts of town, we have to actively make sure our rising tide truly raises all boats.”

Council Member Kathie Tovo also emailed to say, “The chamber report shows some good news for Austin: It demonstrates that job opportunities returned in every major private industry sector and Austin’s economy remains strong. The city must continue to prioritize investments in workforce training and other programs to help ensure that Austinites from diverse backgrounds can compete for well-paying jobs with clear paths to career advancement.”

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