Texas economy

Labor and economic experts discuss how the Texas economy has adapted during the pandemic

Year 3: COVID and the economy

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Although Texas’ economy has largely recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic, the state is still experiencing a child care staffing crisis, forcing working parents to continue to stay home with their children. children, said Alfreda Norman, senior vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank. of Dallas, during a Friday panel moderated by Texas Tribune energy and economics reporter Mitchell Ferman.

“Women or caregivers, and it’s often mostly women, have been really devastated in terms of COVID affecting their jobs,” Norman said. “And what we should all know right now is that the childcare business model is broken. It’s not sustainable. It does not allow a living wage for the [child care] workers.”

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Other challenges Texas faces at the start of the third year of the pandemic include vaccinating workers, supply chain issues and training workers for tech-enabled jobs, Norman and his colleagues said. fellow panelists Julian Alvarez, a Texas labor commissioner representing labor, and Audrey Schroyer, the executive director of the Gainesville Economic Development Corp. But there are also positives over the past two years, Norman said.

“People are realizing the importance of essential workers, the importance of workers to their businesses where they may have taken that for granted,” Norman said. “If there’s anything that’s happened, it’s that maybe the worker has a stronger voice in terms of how important they are to keeping businesses going, by showing up and being there in these times. essential.”

How the pandemic has affected working Texans

Alvarez said the Texas Workforce Commission worked through three years of unemployment insurance claims over the past 13 months to ensure that Texans who may have been unexpectedly laid off during the pandemic could receive unemployment assistance. He said the commission, its partners and individual businesses have gotten creative during the pandemic to train workers for new and different jobs.

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“Industry was the driving force behind what we at Texas Workforce [Commission] were going to do next,” Alvarez said. “We’ve allowed our workforce councils to use some of their money to buy hotspots or buy that technology or that broadband service so those kids in rural areas can actually have access to their computers.

Nationally, COVID-19 has hit low-income people the hardest, Norman said, and it has been difficult to get workers vaccinated without a vaccination mandate in place. Some people are even hesitant to tell their employer when they get sick because they risk losing at least five days of work due to quarantine, she said.

“Blacks and Hispanics also had higher mortality from COVID, so you can’t help but say everyone should be vaccinated and protect themselves,” Norman said. “At the same time, there are economic factors where people are trying to support their families and have to make really tough decisions.”

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Alvarez said the Workforce Commission encourages employers to follow COVID-19 recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which include vaccination for COVID-19.

What businesses have learned from the pandemic

In Gainesville, Schroyer said, the largest employer manufactures airplane seats, so the city’s economy was hit hard when the pandemic caused air travel to plummet. But, she said, some businesses saw record revenues once they were able to reopen as they diversified their operations and customer base.

“They learned to look beyond what they knew to be their comfortable customer base and … diversify how they could get into different product lines, maybe how they could train employees in the event of layoff or [employees] decided to retire … so he could keep up with operations,” Schroyer said. “So that was another piece of diversification, not just in what we’re going to do in terms of supply chain, but how are we going to keep pace with our people as well.”

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Norman said this pivot is happening across industries nationwide as employers realize that workers aren’t necessarily being trained for more technologically advanced jobs.

“Training workers and preparing them for the future economy is essential,” Norman said. “One of the things we’ve realized is that pretty much as a country, we haven’t done a good job of preparing people for these 21st century jobs.”

Economic growth during the pandemic

Schroyer said Gainesville, a North Texas city of about 16,000, has seen an influx of young individuals and families moving to more rural communities, which she attributes to a lower cost of living than urban and suburban areas.

“We can offer land, buildings, incentives, labor, quality of life, and it’s usually a lower upfront cost to the business moving here than if they were to move to an area urban,” Schroyer said.

Alvarez and Norman both agreed that they have seen collaboration between employers, workers, government and community leaders to help hire, train and retain workers across the state.

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“It’s amazing what can happen when everyone has a common vision of what they see for their community and can start making systemic change by providing adaptive leadership, which is what you need for issues. complex, and it’s great to see that happening in the state,” Norman said.

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Sponsors help make our events possible. Thanks to UTHealth School of Public Health for hosting this event and to HCA Healthcare, Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc. and the Texas Association of Community Colleges for supporting this event. Media support is provided by Austin American-Statesman.

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