Recent employment and income numbers show a comparative decline in available jobs in the Bell County area, but also project that problem should decrease in coming years.

J.M. Hill, a longtime resident of the Killeen area who currently resides in Harker Heights, says he sees a huge problem in terms of the economic population.

“You can count on huge numbers of people looking for things to buy and things to do, and even looking for jobs,” Hill said. “I struggle to think of easily available jobs that pay a living wage — an increase in actual industry and fewer chains and car dealerships would go a long way towards addressing that.”

The population of the Bell County area has increased by almost 9,000 in the last five years, and is projected to grow by almost 12,000 in the next five years, according to statistics from Texas Workforce Solutions.

Available jobs decreased by more than 3,500 in the last five years — a 4.2 percent decrease — while the United States showed an average 12 percent increase in jobs, the report stated.

The industries that lost jobs were government and transportation, each averaging a loss of 12 percent. Wholesale trade saw a decrease of 18 percent, agriculture lost 2 percent and information and manufacturing saw the greatest decline, with 35 and 28 percent losses respectively, according to the report.

However, employment opportunities are expected to grow by 884 positions over the next five years, the report concluded.

In keeping with that projection, Bell County employment numbers have increased by just more than half a percent from 2017 to 2018, according to numbers released by the United States Department of Labor through the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Bell County ranks 219th for employment nationwide, according to the report.

Employment rose in 24 of the 25 largest counties in Texas from September 2017 to September 2018; job growth in Midland, Fort Bend, and Brazoria counties ranked among the top 10 nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor’s Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages.

Harris County reported the highest employment numbers with 2.3 million workers reported, according to the Bureau of Labor.

The largest 25 counties in Texas accounted for almost 80 percent of the total employment within the state of Texas, the report stated.

Bell County currently employed about 118,000 workers from 2017 to 2018, at an average weekly rate of $882, according to the report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That rate is $123 shy of the Texas average of $1,005 weekly, and places income in Bell County at 256th in the country, according to the same report.

The highest income is reported in Carson County near Amarillo where the weekly average is $1,661, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said.

While the average weekly income of seven Texas counties was higher than the national average, all but 29 of the state’s 254 counties had wages below the national average, the study found.

“Lower-paying counties tended to be located in the agricultural areas of central Texas, the Texas panhandle and along the Texas-Mexico border,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics website.

Southeast of San Angelo, Menard County currently has the lowest weekly income, averaging just $518, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Texas Workforce Solution shows Bell County has an average of more than 50,000 government- related jobs, which is more than quadruple the national average of 12,000 Government jobs.

However, Bell County shows significantly fewer jobs than the national average in all other areas, including retail trade, health care and social assistance, accommodation and food services, finance and insurance, scientific and technical services, transportation and warehousing, construction, waste management, real estate, arts and entertainment, wholesale trade, agriculture, education, information, manufacturing, utilities and management of companies and enterprises.

While still lagging behind the national average, the industries showing the greatest growth in Bell County are food services, retail trade, health care, technical services and finance, according to the Texas Workforce Commission report.

The highest paying jobs in Bell County are in management of companies and enterprises, according to the Texas Workforce Solutions, averaging more than $100,000 annually. Utilities has the second largest average income at about $95,000 annually, and health care personnel rank third with about $90,000 annual salaries, according to the report.

Graduates from Central Texas College, Texas A&M University-Central Texas and Yahweh Beauty Academy have increased in the past five years by 2 percent, according to Texas Workforce Solutions.

The highest share of the graduates come from general studies, criminal justice and safety studies and general business commerce, the report said.

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