Debra Rosales said she often comes across multiple “Help Wanted” signs at local businesses on major city streets.
Although she is looking for gainful employment, the longtime Corpus Christi resident said the problem is not that companies aren’t hiring, but rather that the jobs available are low-paying and less than desirable.
Rosales, 38, said she has seen countless catering and hospitality job openings in the city, but she is hesitant to apply, having worked in the catering industry for about 10 years before attending a school in cosmetology.
“The salary was horrible. Who will survive up to $7.25 or even up to $10 an hour? she said, adding that she takes care of two young children at home. “These jobs these days have an even worse turnover rate, which makes it even harder. … It just isn’t worth it anymore.”
Experts say Rosales’ experience is akin to that of thousands of unemployed South Texas workers. Worse, those same experts say those sentiments might be more prevalent here than in most other places in Texas.
How does the city, the region articulate with the rest of the State?
For example, Corpus Christi reported an unemployment rate of 5.9% for the month of February, the highest rate among other major Texas metropolises that month, according to preliminary figures from the Texas Workforce Commission.
This data also shows that the unemployment rate in Coastal Bend has remained above the state average throughout the pandemic.
However, a recovery is underway.
Local economies have continued to grow as the impact of the omicron variant of COVID-19 has faded, said Jim Lee, an economics professor at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi who directs the South Texas Economic Development Center. . The center provides consultation, education and research services to community stakeholders.
This is despite difficulties with reported labor shortages and supply chain issues, which have resulted in limited availability of some products. In the monthly South Texas Economic Development Center Update for MarchLee said local businesses have shown resilience in generating double-digit year-over-year growth in monthly sales tax collections so far in 2022.
“The recovery is there; it’s just a bit slower than elsewhere,” Lee said.
What contributes to the unemployment rate?
The difference between the unemployment rate in Coastal Bend and other areas is partly because the former depends on hospitality – namely tourism – and the oil and gas industries, experts say.
These industries have suffered some of the largest losses as a result of the pandemic, leading to layoffs, reduced hours and other employment disincentives during the pandemic.
“Tourism has pretty much stopped and many people have stopped traveling and using gasoline and so on,” Lee said. “Hospitality jobs – your restaurants, for example – have also been hit by the lack of tourism.”
As the unemployment rate has slowly returned to pre-pandemic levels, there has been a “mismatch” between the labor market – or the estimate of the total number of workers – and the needs of local businesses, said Lee.
Additionally, some job seekers, like Rosales, have become much more selective about the jobs they take on, especially in hospitality, Lee said.
“You have a situation where some people will keep their options open rather than taking one of the first offers they get,” he said. “This mismatch is very serious and could take some time to understand.”
In some cases, people can choose to continue their education or pursue an entirely different career, Lee said.
Tourism and industry could soon generate new gains
Although the impacts on the oil and gas industry and tourism have likely led to increased unemployment in the region, experts say these industries could see significant gains in the coming months.
Viktoria Pierce, professor of economics at Del Mar College, said a strong return of tourism to the area could see an eventual improvement in the employment rate as COVID-19 cases remain low and the region avoids the closures.
Visit Corpus Christi is contracted by the city for the purpose of marketing Corpus Christi for tourism and as a place to live. Brett Oetting, president and CEO, told the Caller-Times in February that about 12 million people visit Corpus Christi each year.
Pierce is also studying any changes in the global energy market as a result of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United States imposed sanctions on the country and European customers are seeking to reduce their dependence on Russian energy. These customers could look to the United States and the industrialized Coastal Bend.
Specifically, Europe’s needs for liquefied natural gas, or LNG, could directly impact Coastal Bend if those customers switch to buying American-made LNG.
“My hope is that due to the increased interest in natural gas from the United States, we could expect an increase in activity at the (port of Corpus Christi). And them, as well as the factories needed to managing and converting that gas to its liquefied form, could employ more people,” Pierce said. “It’s certainly possible as the energy market evolves.”
Last week’s news Biden administration allocates more than $157 million for the completion of the Corpus Christi Ship Channel Improvement Project, which is set for completion in late 2023, would further encourage local industry.
Once completed, the wider and deeper shipping channel will accommodate larger vessels capable of carrying a greater quantity and variety of cargo.
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