CORPUS CHRISTI – Jobs in Nueces County are more plentiful and pay better than they did a year ago, but local economist worry the picture could change in coming months because of the region’s strong ties to the energy industry.
Nueces County was one among the state’s 25 largest counties where employment and wages rose from the third quarter of 2013 to the third quarter of 2014, according to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Local economists credited the upswings to growth from the oil and gas industry, but said the region’s true economic health won’t be clear until data on recent cuts and job losses in the energy sector are released.
“Getting the next set of statistics will be more revealing,” said Thomas M. Krueger, a professor of finance at Texas A&M University-Kingsville.
The bureau’s report, released Tuesday, also noted strong employment growth in Nueces County and other Coastal Bend communities in the Trade, Transportation and Utilities industry. That sector includes retail and wholesale business, and jobs centered on the shipment and storage of goods.
It will be months until the agency releases data for October to December 2014, when energy companies began cutting production and laying off workers by the thousands because of worldwide oil glut. But officials from the Texas Workforce Commission and Workforce Solutions of the Coastal Bend, in Corpus Christi, each unveiled figures this week indicating unemployment in the 12-county region has improved.
“Given the reliance of oil and gas production in South Texas, employment growth in the Coastal Bend will inevitably slow down,” said Jim Lee, chief economist for Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. “The pressing questions now are its pace and, more importantly, if there is any factor that will offset the impact of low oil prices.”
Unemployment in Corpus Christi fell to 4.7 percent in February, from 5 percent the month before. Texas’ unemployment rate in February fell to 4.3 percent from 4.4 percent in January.
Lee said he doesn’t anticipate employment and wages to go into a free fall. Rather, he expects the bottle neck in the regional labor market to gradually loosen.
Wages in Nueces County rose 5.5 percent from a year ago, but lag far behind the rest of the state. That fact was a central theme in a recent survey conducted jointly by A&M-Corpus Christi and American Bank. It found business owners faced a tight labor market, and that there has not been much of a relief for local employees in hiring since September 2014.
“Wage costs remained a major challenge for local businesses,” Lee said.
The average wage for workers in the Coastal Bend is $18.35 an hour, up from $17.08 in 2010, Texas Workforce Commission data shows. The average weekly wage in Nueces County was $860 in September 2014. Average weekly wages in McMullen, Jim Wells, Karnes counties, each of which lies within the Eagle Ford Shale play, were $1,012, $944 and $952 respectively.
This article was written by Chris Ramirez from Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Texas and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.