As efforts to reopen Texas businesses continue amid COVID-19, local workforce officials are reporting some improvement to the local job market. Representatives with Workforce Solutions Texoma said there has been a steady decline in new unemployment claims in recent weeks.
Since March 1, just over 8,000 unemployment claims have been made for Grayson County. However, only 249 were filed for Grayson this past week.
By comparison, 3,872 claims were made in March alone.
“We feel like things are getting better in terms of people that have received their unemployment benefits and their things have been sorted out,” WST Executive Director Janie Bates said Wednesday. “I feel there are less claimants overall as things are beginning to open up people are being called back to work.”
This was slightly higher than the 219 claims the county saw the previous week, but Bates attributed this to variance in the market.
“Grayson was up this week, just a little bitt, but that fluctuates because you have people moving in and out of the system,” she said.
Bates said workforce centers for WST in Fannin, Grayson and Cooke Counties have also seen a reduction in calls in recent weeks. Last week the centers saw 1,454 calls; a significant decrease from the 4,000 calls the centers received at the peak demand on the week of March 23.
“It is getting back down to a normal term. I think between 1,000 calls to 1,200 a week is pretty normal for us,” she said, noting that WST does not directly handle unemployment claims.
Despite the decrease in claims, so employers are having trouble getting employees back to work. As a part of relief efforts from the pandemic, the federal government has increased the benefits offered for unemployment claims. With this additional income, some workers have been hesitant to return to the job.
“We are hearing from employers, especially those where a worker might earn $15 an hour or less,” Bates said. “They are having difficulty getting people back because as long as they are drawing unemployment that pays more than what they were being paid at work, they don’t want to return to work.”
“If that $600 dollar equates to $15 an hour ... you may be making more now than you were at your job,” she continued.
The Texas Workforce Commission has taken steps to address this by adding a hot line that employers can call to report individuals who decline to return to work. However, some exemptions still exist.
Currently, these enhanced benefits are scheduled to run through the end of July.
Starting on July 6, some of the requirements for unemployment benefits that were waived early in the pandemic will be put back in place. Recipients will be required to conduct three job searches, down from the normal five, each week.
This requirement was temporarily waived as jobs became more scarce at the height of the pandemic.
“They (TWC) didn’t think that there would be many places to apply with so many places closed,” Bates said.
Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at email@example.com.