Employment rate rises in local areas
A recent Houston-area household survey conducted by the Census Bureau concluded that the local unemployment rate has fallen to 8.5 percent.
Director of the UH Institute for Regional Forecasting Barton Smith said that the job growth is too small to get excited about and that new job opportunities are scarce and widely dispersed.
“The job gains are small and are scattered about,” Smith said. “There is not a single sector that is contributing much, and in most cases, the gains are to be found in sub sectors, such as oil related energy exploration, etc.”
The way the surveys are conducted statistically affects the overall percentage outcome.
“Part of it is that discouraged workers have temporarily left the job market, and since they are no longer looking for work, they are not included in the pool of the unemployed,” Smith said. “However, part is due to the fact that the Houston region is adding a small amount of new jobs each month as well.”
Smith said that the national unemployment rate (9.7) is in worse shape than the local rate, and that the national rate affects graduating students who are looking for jobs in Houston.
“Most students are influenced by the national market, not just the local labor market, and nationally we’ve yet to start adding net new jobs,” Smith said. “That doesn’t mean that there aren’t jobs available, just that the new hiring is still not keeping up with the new layoffs.”
Smith said that students majoring in technology and engineering are the most likely to be able to find work, while business and social-science majors will have a hard time finding employment with an undergraduate degree.
“Those in tech-oriented areas will do the best,” Smith said. “Business students will struggle. There are some emerging opportunities in engineering. Students with just a bachelor’s degree in social sciences and the fine arts will continue to find job hunting difficult for at least another year.”
Last year, the job market was especially hard on undergraduates. Smith encourages undergraduates to stay in school and study for a master’s degree or a Ph.D.
“For undergraduates, the pickings were slim,” Smith said. “Many who had graduated with a Bachelor of Science chose to go on to graduate school while the labor market settled down, which was an excellent idea.”
While studying towards a graduate degree can help students become a better competitor in the job market, earning an advanced degree has not proven to ensure employment in these difficult economic times. Smith, however, believes it will help when the market stabilizes.
“Use this as a time to upgrade your education and experience,” Smith said. “Getting an advanced degree will prove very important in the recovery that will eventually emerge.”
Smith said that he does not foresee a significant change in the Houston job market next year.
“I believe unemployment will be down slightly next year,” Smith said. “But still high in historical terms.”