M. Ray Perryman
I n the midst of oft-changing variables, it is sometimes helpful to look at a broader, longer-term perspective. This is particularly true when the subject is at the top of the interest list of the majority of Americans. I’m referring to jobs and, although the situation in most states over the past several years has been disheartening, Texas stands out as the silver lining in the cloud of unemployment. In particular, the pattern in private sector jobs across the country over the past decade is stunning, with Texas being one of the few bright spots.
Each month, the number of people working in Texas, as in all other states, changes. Fortunately for the Lone Star State, that change has usually been on the positive side, though there have been a few months when job losses were significant during the recent downturn. Overall, however, a longer-term view over the past decade indicates that more private sector jobs have been created in Texas than any other state in the nation.
In December 1999, the United States was at the peak of the high-tech bubble and the country’s unemployment rate was resting at 4.0 percent. After a decade, as a result of staggering aftershocks from almost unprecedented economic difficulties, the nation, as a whole, is experiencing unemployment rates around 10 percent.
From December 1999 through December 2009, Texas added 724,300 net private sector workers, a 9.30 percent total gain. For this same period, the nation experienced a 1.41 percent loss in the number of private sector jobs.
Of the remainder of the 10 most populous U.S. states, only Florida was able to achieve positive private employment growth (up 259,500, a 4.31 percent hike). The other top 10 states experienced job losses with percentages ranging from 1.04 percent (New York) to 19.56 percent (Michigan).
Texas, of course, has certainly not escaped the wrath of the recent recession and the corollary loss of jobs, but its effects have not been felt as strongly as in other states. Part of the reason is Texas’ business friendly environment, tax structure and economic policies — all favorable to creating and expanding jobs.
Another contributor has been the population expansion. The number of residents in the Lone Star State has been growing by more than 1,000 new residents a day, much of it by domestic and foreign migration because of the diversity of jobs in Texas, as well as the availability of housing complexes within close proximity to work centers plus healthy environments and quality-of-life opportunities for families. This increase in population has greatly enlarged the potential workforce, especially those with the skills needed for today’s jobs.
Still another reason why Texas’ general employment atmosphere remains positive is that in 2003, when the state began experiencing declining revenues, spending cuts became the norm as opposed to raising taxes or operating from a deficit — a practice the federal government has not yet fully valued.
Other significant factors that have contributed to the state’s employment health can be traced to the implementation several years ago of the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Emerging Technology Fund and the additional funding by succeeding legislatures. In addition, special incentives such as the Texas Back to Work program (which provides employers a wage subsidy of up to $2,000 for hiring qualified out-of-work Texans) are proving helpful.
While the past year has not been easy for many Texans, with an overall statewide employment decline, the Lone Star State is likely to be back on track in the months to come. October and November data noted job growth, but the December report indicated some losses. Such setbacks will be with us for a while. However, there are many reasons to expect a return to long-term expansionary patterns, and I project that about 1.25 million new jobs will be created across the state during the next five years.