The Killeen-Temple-Fort Hood Metropolitan Statistical Area finished the year with its lowest unemployment rate since May 2009.
With 161,700 people employed in the civilian workforce during December, 11,100 area residents, or 6.4 percent, were without jobs, according to Texas Workforce Commission data.
“(December) is our fourth consecutive month where the number of those on unemployment insurance continues to decline, and that is always good ...,” said Susan Kamas, Central Texas Workforce Development Board executive director.
The rate was 0.3 percent lower than December 2012 but 1.3 percent higher than the annual unemployment rate of 2008. In 2008, about 7,995 people were considered unemployed, according to the annual report.
“The economic downturn took place in 2007,” said John Crutchfield, Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce president. “The national economy does have an effect on us because it produces uncertainty and uncertainty means people who will spend money are less likely to do so.”
Those people tend to create jobs, Crutchfield said.
The highest unemployment rate during 2013 came in June when 7.8 percent of the labor force, or 13,409 people, claimed to be unemployed.
“Normal hiring spurs are during the summer and during the holiday season,” Kamas said. “The holiday season begins earlier and earlier every year.”
Some people retain the jobs they worked temporarily during the holiday season, Kamas said.
The Killeen area has seen a lot of job growth. New housing starts and commercial construction projects are good signs the number of jobs will continue to grow, Kamas said.
But even with the lower unemployment number, the Killeen-Temple-Fort Hood area held the sixth-highest unemployment rate for metropolitan statical areas in the state, according the commission’s data. It was the fifth-highest in 2012.
“Our market is a little different in that we have a lot of job growth, but we also have an unemployment factor that 10,000 soldiers leave the Army every year,” Crutchfield said. “That has always been an added challenge.”
The chamber, along with other entities such as the Army Career and Alumni Program, survey soldiers exiting the military.
Poll results show about 35 percent want to stay in Central Texas, and that number is “even more if they can find a job immediately,” Crutchfield said. Upward of 55 percent say they would stay in Central Texas if they find a job right after exiting the military.
According to the commission’s data, the labor force grew by 3,400 people in 2013. Between 2008 and 2013, about 16,900 people were added to the labor force.
Other factors that affect unemployment rates are a good economy and consistent job growth, Crutchfield said. Those two factors often contribute to people moving to the area to seek work.
“That is what happens when you have a good economy, the number of folks entering the workforce goes up,” he said.
This year, the number of jobs should continue to climb with projects like Solix, a call center, bringing 175 possible jobs and other commercial developments already underway, Crutchfield said.
While it is unknown if unemployment rates will continue to drop, some national political issues, such as the Affordable Health Care Act, create uncertainty and cause large businesses to tighten their budgets, he said.
The Army also will downsize at some point, Crutchfield said, but most soldiers have skills most civilians don’t have.
“Soldiers who leave the Army, they know about team building and know what we call ‘soft skills’... those are an asset for employers,” Crutchfield said. Soft skills include being prompt, following instructions and working as a team, he said.