Texas economy improving


By Matt Goodman

Killeen Daily Herald

It seems like a contradiction: Texas' unemployment rate in July rose by 0.4 percent, but the private sector surged forward, adding additional jobs to the market for the first time since October of last year.

While it's easy to focus on the jump to 7.9 percent statewide unemployment, the Texas economy managed to add 37,900 jobs. This may mean that the state is hitting the "bottom" of the recession and is fighting back, officials said.

October 2008 was the last time Texas touted an increase in jobs after communities began to recover from Hurricane Ike, which struck that September.

"We have had about three percent to four percent of the total U.S. job loss, yet we are seven to eight percent of the U.S. economy," said Waco economist Dr. Ray Perryman in an e-mail. "In addition, we had a very modest loss in June and a gain in July in non-agricultural jobs in Texas. Thus, we appear to be stabilizing sooner than the U.S."

The additional jobs could signal that unemployment numbers for August won't increase as much as the national rate, which jumped to a 26-year high of 9.7 percent.

Though, that's not saying Texas numbers won't increase. August statistics will be released later this month and will most likely show that at least 8 percent of Texans were unemployed then, which will be the highest since 1987. But the contrast between the state adding nearly 38,000 jobs in July while the nation eliminated about 216,000 is encouraging to officials and economists.

"I think the July numbers indicate that Texas is coming out of the recession earlier than others," Perryman said, "but I expect the numbers to be bumpy over the next few months before a firm growth trend is established."

Starting to rebound

In July, personal and business services added 18,700 jobs to the Texas economy. Education and health services gained 14,400 jobs.

Construction tacked on another 3,000 while leisure and hospitality added 2,800 jobs.

Financial activities rounded the additions out with 1,800 jobs.

"Our job growth slowed down, but it did a long time after job growth nationally slowed down," said John Crutchfield, Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce president. "Now it's taking off again."

Crutchfield said Texas has a better base than other states for job growth because of the balanced budget amendment, which keeps the state from spending more money than it has, meaning businesses won't have to foot the bill for a state deficit.

"That tends to stabilize the economy a great deal and keeps us from diving off into really negative circumstances," he said. "I think businesses recognize the value in that."

Available jobs

WendyAnn Riggs mans the front line of the employment search. As career center supervisor at the Workforce Solutions of Central Texas on 300 Cheyenne in Killeen, Riggs and her staff help the unemployed scour the area for available jobs.

She's overjoyed about the state adding jobs for the first time in almost a year, and said that while the number of job seekers looking for help with the employment process hasn't slowed, there are plenty job listings in a number of different fields.

"If I do a search of all of the jobs in the Temple and Killeen area in our system, we have 454 job postings as of this very moment," she said. "The number of job posts we have in the system is down from last year at the same time, however, we do still have a significant number of job postings in the system."

She said these jobs "run the gamut" from clinics seeking doctors to schools looking for janitors.

The variety, she said, is more indicative of the military driven Central Texas economy than the whole state. The summer, she said, is more common for military relocations. It's easier to move children during the summer than in the middle of the school year, and when these men and women leave, their jobs become available.

"There is hope of getting back to work and hopefully more quickly than not," Riggs said. "Sometimes that can be a real concern for people when they get laid off: that it's going to be very difficult to go back to work."

Better position

In Killeen, the unemployment rate sits at 7.2 percent. Copperas Cove was 7 percent in July and Temple was 6.4 percent, all below the state level.

For the future of the state's unemployment rate, Crutchfield puts it on the back of the national economy. He said the nation must decrease its deficit spending, freeing up the private sector from covering the government's tab.

Though whether that happens or not, Texas is still in a better position than most, he said.

"The government is going to have to borrow that money and if they can't do that, then they print it. And when those things begin to happen, inflation occurs and that will shut the economy down and impact job growth," he said. "But again, I think Texas is positioned to do very well in the years ahead."

Contact Matt Goodman at mgoodman@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7550.

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