The unemployment rate in Gregg, Rusk and Upshur counties was three times higher in April than it was in February as the new coronavirus global pandemic continued to cost jobs, according to a report from the Texas Workforce Commission.
The commission reported Friday that the unemployment rate in the Longview Metropolitan Statistical Area reached 12.3% in April with 11,000 residents between jobs. It was up from 5.7% in March — which saw only a partial effect of the pandemic — and up from 3.1% a year ago.
The numbers have been rising since the commission reported a 4.1% unemployment rate for the Longview MSA in February and as a consequence of Gov. Greg Abbott imposing restrictions on business activity to prevent the spread of the COVID-19. Those restrictions now are being lifted in stages.
The Longview MSA figure for April is lower than the statewide rate of 12.8%, its all-time high as the Texas economy lost about 1.3 million nonfarm jobs. Texas set its previous record of 9.2% in November 1986 as it reeled from its last major oil bust, the Texas Tribune reported.
“These numbers from the Texas Workforce Commission reflect the measurable impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the Texas economy,” Robert Johnson, executive director of the Gladewater Economic Development Corp., said in a statement. He said GEDCO will “tirelessly continue our economic development efforts aimed at the recruitment of new business and the retention of existing business both in Gladewater and East Texas as a whole.”
“We hope to reverse the unfortunate trend as outlined in this jobs report by addressing not only business recruitment and retention but also skills development in order to maintain a strong and ready workforce,” Johnson said.
The numbers came as no surprise to Gilmer City Manager Greg Hutson, who also said most of the major businesses in the city are “running strong.”
“It is not as bad here as it is elsewhere,” Hutson said. “We will weather the storm.”
Hutson and Johnson commented on a month that saw two major companies tied to the oil and gas industry slash jobs within the MSA. Fort Worth-based hydraulic fracking company FTS International Services notified the TWC on April 14 that it would furlough 59 employees at its facility at 1704 E. Whaley St. in Longview.
Houston-based oilfield services company Halliburton followed suit April 29 by notifying the commission it was laying off 233 employees at its facility at 2906 FM 349 in Kilgore with plans to shut down the site and move its operations to Bossier City.
Both companies used notifications about pending job losses to comply with the federal Worker Adjustment Retraining Notification act, which kicks in measures to help displaced workers land new jobs.
Services are provided regionally by Workforce Solutions East Texas, which maintains an office in Longview at 2430 S. High St.
“Workforce Solutions East Texas continues to serve our community and partners in these historic, but temporary, times,” Executive Director Doug Shryock said in a statement. “The fact that we’re only seeing 12.3%, while very difficult, is a tribute to Texas’ can-do attitude. We are already seeing this tide turn as we reopen our region and state.”
John Clary, executive director of the Henderson Economic Development Corp., said he hopes the economic slump is only temporary.
“I don’t know how long it is going to take to come back,” Clary said. “We are hoping it is two years or less, primarily in the oil industry. I think everybody (else) is going to be back for full employment in the short term.”
All major job industries in Texas experienced job losses in April since March, the TWC reported. They included 530,200 jobs in leisure and hospitality, 162,800 in education and health services, 148,600 in professional and business services, 62,500 in construction, 44,300 in manufacturing and 24,300 in mining and logging, which includes the oil and gas industry.
The Amarillo MSA posted the lowest unemployment rate among Texas MSAs in April with a nonseasonally adjusted rate of 8.8%. McAllen-Edinburg-Mission reported the highest rate at 18.2%.