A Shifting Labor Force Makes Texas Top State for Business

We’ve experienced an economic downturn, the start of the fracking boom and roller coaster oil prices. Yet, the state keeps growing.

By Tim Brown, County Information Senior Analyst

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Texas has changed a lot over the last few years. We’ve experienced an economic downturn, the start of the fracking boom and roller coaster oil prices. Yet, the state keeps growing.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau (Bureau), 25,145,561 people were residing in Texas as of April 1, 2010. The Bureau estimated that by July 1, 2017, the number grew to 28,304,596 — a 12.6 percent increase in just over seven years. 

Of course, those numbers represent the state’s total population. Unfortunately, the Bureau won’t release state or county population estimates for 2018 until next year (estimates always refer to past population, for future population numbers you should refer to population projections such as those produced by the Texas Demographic Center). 

However, the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) produces monthly estimates of the labor force (see the highlight box below), how many of the people in the labor force are either employed or unemployed, and the unemployment rate. And they do that for every county!

Still, TWC produces estimates, not projections. Therefore, as of early October, data for August 2018 is the most recent available. 

Map 1 shows how each county’s labor force changed from August 2010 to August 2018. Why start with August 2010? The TWC changed its methodology for creating a break in the series between December 2009 and January 2010. Due to the difficulties associated with trying to compare estimates produced by two different methods, we will stick with the recent data. 

By using the same month from both years, we avoid any issues that might arise from seasonal jobs or the movement of people who do not maintain a single year-round residence (e.g., college students and migrant farm workers).

The ratios displayed on Map 1 represent the estimated number of people employed by each county as of August 2018, divided by the same estimate for August 2010. Thus, positive numbers indicate an increase in the number of people employed within the county while negative numbers show a decrease. 

For example, Dimmit County appears in dark blue because they have the highest ratio in the state. Their ratio of 2.0536 indicates that, for every person employed in the county as of August 2010, there are now 2.0536 such people. In other words, the county’s employed labor force increased by 105.36 percent. 

Similarly, the map reveals that the number of workers in many counties decreased over this period. For example, King County has a ratio of 0.6367, the lowest in the state. This means that the number of people in the county’s labor force decreased by 36.33 percent in eight years. Obviously, many other counties suffered the same fate; 81 counties appear in orange, indicating a decrease of at least 5 percent in their labor force. 

The 67 counties shown in light orange show a relatively static labor force that changed by less than 5 percent in either direction, either up or down.

Clearly, the Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and Austin-San Antonio areas drove much of the growth as evidenced by the substantial percentage increases in the counties around them. But, surprisingly there was significant growth, at least on a percentage basis, in the counties near the southeast corner of New Mexico. The resurgence of drilling in the Permian Basin likely triggered
this growth. 

All of which begs the question, what has happened to the unemployment rate? Map 2 shows the unemployment rate by county for August 2010 as provided by TWC. 

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the spot price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil in Cushing, Okla., had risen from the Dec. 23, 2008, low of $30.28 and was hovering a bit under $80 per barrel by August 2010. During that month, WTI peaked on Aug. 3 at $82.52 before falling to $71.24 on Aug. 24.

The housing market, much like the overall economy, had numerous issues. The Texas Real Estate Center notes that the number of houses sold statewide was down to 17,831 in August 2010 from 30,402 in August 2006. Meanwhile, the total value of homes sold decreased from $5.6 billion to $3.5 billion over the same period. 

Unsurprisingly, the unemployment rate, seen in Map 2, reflected the overall economy. In August 2010, the unemployment rate exceeded 10 percent in 31 counties and dipped below 5 percent in only 13 counties. 

By August 2018, the situation had reversed, more or less, as seen in Map 3. By then, only one county had an unemployment rate remaining in the double digits; Zavala County’s rate improved from 16.0 percent in August 2010 to 10.0 percent in August 2018. 

Meanwhile, the number of counties with unemployment rates below 5 percent grew to 212 by August 2018. That trend will likely continue since the U.S. Labor Department reported on Oct. 5 that the national unemployment rate fell to 3.7 percent in September, a 48-year low.

Curiously, the spot price of WTI peaked at $70.25 on Aug. 30 — below the lowest prices seen in August 2010 — and that’s before adjusting
for inflation. 

However, overall, the economy appears to be in much better shape as evidenced by improvements in the housing market. Almost twice as many houses were sold statewide in August 2018 as in August 2010; a total of 34,069 houses sold for almost $9.9 billion during the more recent month. 

In the last eight years, the state population grew by more than 3 million people, 12.6 percent, while the unemployment rate dropped in every one of our 254 counties. Maybe CNBC was right to rank Texas as America’s top state for business in 2018.