Austin downtown skyline over Town Lake

March 15, 2016 – Job Growth & Unemployment

Posted By Beverly Kerr | Mar 15, 2016
Central Texas Economy in Perspective Print Article Austin downtown skyline over Town Lake
  • Austin added 43,400 net new jobs, growth of 4.7%, in the 12 months ending in January, making Austin the second fastest growing major metro.

  • Job growth in Austin in 2015 was more robust than the preliminary estimates indicated. Annual average job growth for 2014-2015, previously estimated at 3.3%, was boosted to 4.7% following annual benchmark revisions completed in March.

  • Austin's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is 3.2%, improved from 3.3% in December.

The Austin metropolitan area added 43,400 net new jobs, or 4.7%, in the 12 months ending in January, according to the latest releases of preliminary payroll jobs numbers by the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Austin’s 4.7% growth makes it the second best performing among the 50 largest metro areas. Dallas (4.5%) followed Austin at third. The other three major Texas metros missed the top 10. San Antonio grew by 2.9% (16th), Fort Worth grew by 0.9% (46th), and Houston grew by 0.6% (49th) between January 2015 and January 2016.

You may recall that January’s article on job growth through December 2015 noted Austin’s moderate job growth throughout 2015 (3.3%) compared to annual growth rates of 4.0% or more in 2012, 2013, and 2014. At that time, new third quarter data from an alternative program, the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages(QCEW),** provided a possible signal that CES may have been understating Austin's job growth in 2015. March is the occasion for the annual benchmark revision process for these Current Employment Estimates (CES). Revisions have indeed shown that Austin's growth was much more robust in 2015 than preliminary estimates indicated. Annual average employment in 2015 was 4.6% larger than 2014, and 2015 growth exceeded 2014's 4.5% growth.

For the year ending in January, private sector job growth in the Austin MSA is 5.5%, or 41,400 jobs, and with all private industry divisions, but manufacturing, contributing to the growth. Austin's sizable government sector (nearly 18% of jobs) saw modest growth over the last 12 months, gaining 2,000 jobs or 1.2%, thus bringing the overall job growth rate to 4.7%.

Texas saw weaker net private sector job growth of 1.7% with all private industries, except two, adding jobs over the last 12 months. Since the government sector, which accounts for over 16% of total state employment, gained less, 1.4%, total job growth statewide is 1.6%. For the nation, private sector growth is 2.2% for the 12 months ending in January, with all private industries adding jobs. Overall job growth is a more modest 1.9% because the government sector gained only 0.3%. At this time, the most recent month of national data is February. For the 12 months ending in February, national job growth rates—total, private and government—are the same as the rates for the 12 months ending in January.

Jobs in January are down from the preceding month by 13,000 jobs or 1.3% in the not-seasonally-adjusted series for Austin, while on a seasonally adjusted basis, jobs are up by 2,300 or 0.2%. Seasonally adjusted jobs are also up in Dallas and in San Antonio by 0.1% and 0.8% respectively. Jobs are down in Houston by 0.1% and in Fort Worth by 0.5%. Statewide, seasonally adjusted jobs are up 31,400 or 0.3% in January. Nationally, seasonally adjusted jobs rose 0.1% in January and 0.2% in February.

In Austin, the industry adding the most jobs is leisure and hospitality which grew by 9,800 jobs, or 9.2%, over the last 12 months. Construction and natural resources grew fasted at 11.0% and added 5,800 jobs. Also growing at faster-than-average rates are wholesale trade (10.3% or 4,800 jobs) and professional and business services (5.9% or 9,100 jobs). Jobs in manufacturing fell by 1.2% or 700 jobs.

Statewide, leisure and hospitality grew fastest (6.1%) and added the most jobs (70,600). The other relatively fast growing industries were education and health services (4.4%), financial activities (2.9%), retail trade (2.8%), wholesale trade (2.4%), and other services (1.9%). Jobs in construction and natural resources declined by 40,000 (4.1%) and manufacturing lost 35,400 jobs (4.0%) over the last 12 months. The contraction of the construction and natural resources sector was driven by natural resources industries (down 60,100 jobs or 19.2%). The construction industry added jobs (20,100 or 3.0%).

Nationally, professional and business services grew fastest, adding 3.3% over the 12 months ending in January. Leisure and hospitality and education and health services and also grew at faster-than-average rates, 3.1% and 3.0% respectively. Manufacturing saw the lowest rate of private industry growth, 0.4%. No industry lost jobs.

The net gain for private service-providing industries in Austin is 36,300 jobs, or 5.6%, over the last 12 months. Employment in goods producing industries is up by 5,100 jobs or 4.6%. Statewide, private service-providing industries are up 239,100 or 3.0%, but goods producing industries are down 75,400 jobs or -4.0%.

We also now have January 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 Friday. In December, Austin had the third lowest rate of unemployment among the 50 largest metros.

Unemployment numbers for January show Austin’s performance relative to the state and other major Texas metros being sustained. In January, Austin is at 3.2%, while the other major metros range from 3.7% in Dallas and San Antonio to 4.8% in Houston. Fort Worth is at 4.0%. Austin’s rate one year ago was 3.8%. The rates in Texas’ other major metros are also improved from the rates seen a year ago, except for Houston, which has seen its unemployment rate increase (from 4.6%). The statewide not-seasonally-adjusted rate is now 4.4%, down from 4.7% in January of last year. The latest national data is for February and the U.S. unemployment rate is 5.2%, compared to 5.8% in February 2015.

In 2007, before the impact of the Great Recession, unemployment averaged 3.6% in Austin, 4.3% in Texas, and 4.6% nationally. Based on average rates for 2015, unemployment is lower in Austin (3.4%) than before the recession. Texas’ unemployment averaged 4.5% in 2015, the same as 2007, while the nation, with unemployment averaging 5.3%, has a wider gap to bridge in regaining its pre-recession level of unemployment.

Within the Austin MSA, Travis County has the lowest unemployment rate in January, at 3.1%, while Caldwell County has the highest at 4.2%. The rate is 3.2% in Williamson County, 3.3% in Hays County, and 3.6% in Bastrop County.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, Austin’s January unemployment rate is 3.2%, improved from 3.3% in December. With the exception of November, rates have been 3.3% or lower since April. Austin has not seen unemployment this low since early 2001, before the “dot-com” recession. The statewide rate is 4.5%, improved from 4.6% in December. Nationally, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is 4.9% January and February, improved from 5.0% in December.

Among Texas major metros, San Antonio has the next lowest seasonally adjusted rate at 3.7%, while Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston are at 3.8%, 4.0% and 4.8% respectively. January rates are down by 0.1 from December in Dallas and San Antonio and by 0.2 in Fort Worth and Houston. 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 January 2015, Austin’s number of unemployed was 40,332. Over the last 12 months, the unemployed have decreased by 5,832 or 14.5%, to 34,500. The number of unemployed in Austin averaged more than 60,000 for three years running during the Great Recession.

The Austin metro’s civilian labor force (employed plus unemployed) has increased by 3.1% or 32,478 persons from one year age, while persons employed increased by 3.8% or 38,310. Texas saw 0.8% growth in labor force and 1.1% in employed, while the number unemployed declined by 4.9%. Nationally, January civilian labor force is up by 1.3%, while employed is above the level of a year ago by 2.0%, and 876,000 fewer people (9.6%) are unemployed.

Texas Workforce Commission will release February estimates on March 25.

**QCEW is a key input to the annual benchmark revision of the CES sample survey estimates. QCEW’s version of job estimates for the Austin metro show 4.5% growth in 2015 over 2014, based on the first three quarters, a faster rate of growth than QCEW shows for Austin in three preceding years. QCEW is based on administrative records for workers covered by state and federal unemployment insurance. CES estimates include these workers as well as supplemental estimates for some industries that have workers that are not covered by unemployment insurance.

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.

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Beverly Kerr

Vice President of Research, Beverly Kerr, joined the Chamber’s Economic Development Department in 2004, following 10 years in a similar role with the Kansas City Area Development Council. Beverly earned an M.A. in economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.