As Texoma approaches the holiday hiring season, the region is experiencing near record lows and the lowest unemployment rate in at least 20 years, local economic developers said. This comes as the region has remained in a state of “full employment” — where almost all job seekers have found employment — for more than a year.
On Friday, the Texas Workforce Commission released its monthly unemployment report, which found only 3.2 percent unemployment for the month of September for the Sherman-Denison area. This marks a half-percent drop in unemployment for the region over just one month’s span. This is the third drop of 0.4 percent or higher in local unemployment this year, according to the TWC.
“A half-a-percent drop makes people take notice,” Marsha Lindsey, deputy director of Workforce Solutions Texoma, said. “I’ve been in Workforce for 20 years and I don’t think I’ve seen it this low before.”
Friday’s report found that the number of individuals in the local labor market remained steady at about 61,700 workers between August and September. However, about 300 more people found work in the past month, bringing the region’s total employed to 59,700, according to the report.
Lindsey said she wasn’t certain if these numbers could have been influenced by the upcoming holiday shopping season, as the report is not adjusted for seasonal trends. Lindsey said she has noticed that employers started hiring early this year, but was uncertain if it occurred in September.
In looking at local trends, Lindsey said she has noticed a decline in local layoffs from manufacturing employers, adding additional pressure to employers who are having difficulty finding skilled candidates for work.
In the Denison Development Alliance’s monthly meeting Thursday, DDA President Tony Kaai said the opinion of the market from local and prospective employers is that the region has run out of employable candidates. From his perspective as an economic developer, Kaai said he feels this sentiment is absolutely accurate.
As an anecdote, Kaai said Ruiz Foods, like many industrial employers, is currently hiring another 100 employees at their Denison plant.
“Now it has been over a year and they are still 100 short from where they want to be,” he said.
Adding to employer’s challenges, Kaai said area industries are also reporting that many of their workers are starting to inquire about retirement. In August, Lindsey said nationally, many employers could see more than 10 percent of their workforce reach retirement age.
With regard to the half-percent drop in the local unemployment rate, Kaai said he was uncertain of the precision of the estimate, noting that it is conducted primarily through phone surveys, but agreed that the region has exceptionally low unemployment currently.
“I went back 20 years … and I never found any years that were below 3.3 or 3.4 percent,” he said.
Lindsey said she does not believe all employable candidates for jobs have been hired, but noted that the pool is extremely limited. She added that there will always be some level of turnover and candidates searching as people leave jobs or are laid off.
“When people lose their job for whatever reason, there will always be some buffer time,” she said. “People usually don’t leave a job on Friday and start another on Monday.”
Similarly, Frank Gadek, executive vice president for the Sherman Economic Development Corp., said he has also seen a stream of people who temporarily left the workforce coming back to look for employment.
“What that reason is, I don’t know,” he said. “But from the conversations I have had, it seems to be a growing number.”
The state and national unemployment rates also saw similar drops in September. The state rate dropped 0.5 percent to 4 percent, while the national rate dropped from 4.5 to 4.1 percent. This decrease comes in spite of damage from Hurricane Harvey in late August and early September. In total, the TWC estimates that 7,300 jobs were lost due to the storm.
“Hurricane Harvey impacted overall job numbers in September, but the dynamic Texas economy has created jobs in 10 of 11 industries over the year,” TWC Chairman Andres Alcantar said in the report. “TWC remains focused on building and deploying all partnerships necessary to support the rebuilding of our communities impacted by Hurricane Harvey and to put our fellow Texans back to work.”