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Houston is adding jobs, but don't celebrate yet

Houston is adding jobs, but don't celebrate yet

Houston is adding jobs, but don't celebrate yet
  • April 16, 2004

The official statistics have finally caught up with what economists have been saying for months: the Houston economy is actually adding jobs.

Houston has finally broken its string of 25 consecutive months of year-over-year job losses with the addition of 300 jobs during March, the Texas Workforce Commission reported Thursday.

But before Houston celebrates too quickly, labor market analyst Joel Wagher points out that the only reason Houston added jobs was robust hiring by state and local government.

During the past year, government agencies added 9,200 jobs, said Wagher, of the WorkSource-Gulf Coast Workforce Board. The private sector was still down by 8,900 jobs.

"These numbers are ho-hum," said Barton Smith, director of the Institute for Regional Forecasting at the University of Houston. But getting past such a long period of job losses represents a psychological boost.

"So many people rely on this 12-month comparison," Smith said. "In that sense, it's good."

Smith adjusts the local employment data each month for seasonal variations and believes the Houston area has actually created 24,000 jobs since August. That's the month Smith believes Houston began to turn the corner.

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The law firm of Haynes and Boone in Houston has already started to prepare for the economic recovery by adding 15 lawyers and six staff members during the past year.

The firm has seen an increase in business transactions, said corporate lawyer Paul Dickerson. It also needed extra lawyers to handle the heavy flow of lawsuits filed during the economic downturn.

Officially, the employment picture is also brightening. Or at least the losses aren't as great as they once were.

·Manufacturing isn't bleeding as badly as it was a year ago, cutting only 4,400 jobs during the past year compared with 11,700 jobs a year ago, according to the workforce commission.

·Low interest rates have helped to stem construction job losses. This year, construction companies cut 3,000 jobs compared with 4,600 a year ago.

·A weaker dollar coupled with national growth has helped local wholesalers. The distributors of everything from oil field pumps to sodas to computer equipment cut only 200 jobs over the past year, compared with 1,300 a year ago.

The local number of initial claims for unemployment during March also dropped 8.4 percent compared with a year ago in Harris and 12 surrounding counties, according to the workforce commission.

"That's another sign of the turnaround," said Wagher.

Tony Pannagl, managing partner of IS&T, an information technology consulting firm in Houston, is also seeing signs that business is picking up.

It started in December, said Pannagl, who has gone from having eight employees a year ago to 50 today.

"It's across the board," he said, naming clients in the energy sector, banking and finance, health care and even manufacturing that are making expensive capital improvements in their computer systems.

This time last year they were in a maintenance mode, he said. And no one was talking about big spending.

The local unemployment rate dipped 0.1 percentage point to 6.2 percent in March.

The unemployment rate in Texas was 6.2 percent in March, up from 6.1 percent in February. Unlike the local unemployment rate, the statewide jobless rate is adjusted for seasonal variations.