Job Growth & Unemployment

Posted on 01/27/2015 by Beverly Kerr

The Austin metropolitan area added 25,500 jobs, or 2.9%, in the 12 months ending in December, according to Friday’s releases of payroll jobs numbers by the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC). Today’s release by the Bureau of Labor Statistics(BLS) of this data for all U.S. metros shows that Austin’s growth of 2.9% makes it the 16th best performing among the 50 largest U.S. metros. Austin trails Dallas which grew fastest, by 4.9%, and third fastest growing Houston which grew by 4.2%. San Antonio’s and Fort Worth’s 3.1% growth puts them at 11th and 14th among large metros.

Austin almost unfailingly makes the top 10 in this major metros year-over-year job growth ranking, so this month’s performance may be surprising. Across the 12 major industry sectors, there is variation in the degree to which December’s year-over-year change resembles preceding months.(1) Since these estimates are preliminary and will be revised in March (and beyond), it may be premature to conclude precisely what is occuring. However, the single industry that has the most notable impact on net change in total payroll jobs between December 2013 and December 2014 is leisure and hospitality. This large industry has not added fewer than 5,000 jobs year-over-year in any of the preceding 25 months and the average seen over the last year was nearly 7,000 jobs. Thus, leisure and hospitality’s net change of only 1,600 jobs for the year ending December 2014 is surprising. Had the industry added something like 7,000 jobs, rather than only 1,600, Austin’s total payroll jobs would have grown by 3.5% over the last 12 months, instead of 2.9%.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas produces a seasonally adjusted set of nonfarm payroll jobs estimates by industry for Austin. For the sake of simplicity and comparability with other data, we don't typically address these numbers in this article. However, in light of some of the unexpected results through December in the BLS/TWC data, it is interesting to note that the Dallas Fed shows leisure and hospitality added 4,600 over the last 12 months and total nonfarm jobs increased by 3.4%. In addition to incorporating seasonal adjustment, the Dallas Fed accelerates the benchmark revisions that BLS only performs annually. (2) While the Dallas Fed series shows better growth over the last 12 months for Austin's leisure and hospitality industry, their series still shows the industry sheding an unprecedented 3,400 jobs over the last two months. (3)

With the above caveats in mind about the preliminary nonfarm employment data, we'll return to the customary review of the new BLS/TWC estimates.

Private sector job growth in the Austin MSA was fairly robust at 3.3%, adding 23,800 jobs, and with all private industry divisions contributing to the growth. Austin's government sector saw modest growth over the last 12 months, gaining only 1,700 jobs or 1.0%, thus bringing the overall job growth rate to 2.9%.

Texas saw stronger net private sector job growth of 4.4% with all private industry divisions adding jobs over the last 12 months. As with Austin, total job growth statewide was lower, 4.0%, due to the only moderate growth (2.1%) in the government sector, which accounts for over 16% of total state employment. For the nation, private sector growth was 2.5% for the 12 months ending in December with all private industries adding jobs. Overall job growth was a more modest 2.2% because the government sector gained only 0.4%.

Jobs in December are down from the preceding month by 1,200 or 0.1% in the not-seasonally-adjusted series for Austin, while November-to-December change on a seasonally adjusted basis shows a gain of 1,200 jobs or 0.1%. On a seasonally adjusted basis, jobs also rose in December in San Antonio (0.1%), Houston (0.2%), Dallas (0.5%), and Fort Worth (0.6%). Seasonally adjusted jobs were up 0.4% in December for Texas and 0.2% for the nation.

In Austin, the industry adding the most jobs was professional and business services, which grew by 7,900 jobs or 5.7% over the last 12 months. One other industry grew at a faster rate. Transportation, warehousing and utilities grew by 6.0% or 900 jobs. Also growing at faster-than-average rates were wholesale trade (4.8% or 2,200 jobs), construction and natural resources (4.4% or 2,000 jobs) and retail trade (4.0% or 4,000 jobs).

Construction and natural resources grew fastest statewide, growing 9.0% and adding 81,300 jobs over the last 12 months. More jobs, 85,600, were added in professional and business services which grew 5.8%. Three other industries were also relatively fast growing: transportation, warehousing and utilities (7.4%), financial activities (5.1%), and education and health services (4.5%).

Nationally, professional and business services added the most jobs (730,000) and gained 3.9% over the last 12 months. Construction and natural resources saw the largest percent change (5.2%). Transportation, warehousing and utilities and leisure and hospitality also grew at faster than average rates (3.0%). No industry lost jobs.

The net gain for private service-providing industries in Austin is 21,000 jobs, or 3.4%, over the last 12 months and the net gain for goods producing industries is 2,800, or 2.8%. Statewide, private service-providing industries are up 329,300 or 4.2% and goods producing industries are up 93,100 or 5.2%.

We also now have December labor force, employment, and unemployment numbers for Texas and local areas in Texas. The same data for all U.S. metros that we often do a ranking of will not be released until February 4. In November, Austin had the third lowest rate of unemployment among the 50 largest metros.

Unemployment numbers for December show Austin’s performance relative to the state and other major Texas metros being sustained. In December, Austin is at 3.4%, while the other major metros range from 3.8% in San Antonio to 4.1% in Dallas and Houston. Fort Worth is at 4.0%. Austin’s rate one year ago was 4.5%. The rates in Texas’ other major metros are 1.3 to 1.5 percentage points improved on the rates seen a year ago. Within the Austin MSA, Travis County has the lowest unemployment rate in December, at 3.3%, while Caldwell County has the highest at 4.1%. The rate is 3.4% in Hays County, 3.5% in Williamson County, and 3.7% in Bastrop County. The statewide not seasonally adjusted rate is now 4.1%, compared to 5.6% in December of last year. The December national rate is 5.4%, compared to 6.5% a year ago.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, Austin’s December unemployment rate is 3.7%, down from 4.1% in November. San Antonio has the next lowest seasonally adjusted rate at 4.1%, while Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston are at 4.4%. December rates are down from November in each metro by 0.4 to 0.5 percentage points. The statewide rate is 4.6%, down from 4.9% in November. Nationally, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is 5.6% in December, down from 5.8% in November. Seasonally adjusted unemployment rates for Texas metros are produced by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. (The TWC also produces seasonally adjusted rates for Texas metros, but publication lags the Dallas Fed’s data.)

With Austin’s unemployment rate down from one year ago, the number unemployed has also declined. In December 2013, Austin’s number of unemployed was 45,714, and has decreased by 10,854 or 23.7%, to 34,860. Civilian labor force (employed plus unemployed) increased by 7,049 or 0.7% in the last 12 months, while persons employed increased by 17,903 or 1.8%. Texas is also showing larger growth in employed (2.7%) than in labor force (1.1%), and 183,858 fewer people (25.4%) are unemployed. Nationally, December civilian labor force is up by 0.7%, while employed is above the level of a year ago by 1.9%, and 1.65 million fewer people (16.6%) are unemployed.

Texas Workforce Commission will release January estimates on March 6.


(1) The first graph presents the region's 5 largest sectors and the second presents the 7 remaining sectors:


(2) The most recent four to 18 months of the BLS' payroll employment series rely on the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey. This survey covers about one-third of the nation’s nonfarm employers, and the BLS uses this sample to estimate recent payroll employment. More comprehensive counts of payroll employment become available later. The primary source of these data is the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW), which compiles information from unemployment insurance records that firms file with their states. These data cover about 97% of nonfarm payroll employees (data for the remaining 3% of nonfarm employees are obtained from other sources). The BLS revises its payroll employment numbers each March to incorporate this information from QCEW. This annual process is known as benchmarking, and the resulting employment numbers are often referred to as the benchmarked employment data. For the state of Texas, the Dallas Fed improves on this process by updating its employment numbers quarterly using preliminary releases of the QCEW from the Texas Workforce Commission.


(3) The Dallas Fed's early benchmarking only applies through June 2014 since that is currently the latest month for which there is QCEW data (see note above). Therefore, their July-December numbers are nonbenchmarked CES survey estimates which have been seasonally adjusted.


The Chamber’s Economic Indicators page provides up-to-date historical spreadsheet versions of Austin, Texas and U.S. data for both the Current Employment Statistics (CES) and Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) data addressed above.

Related Categories: Central Texas Economy in Perspective