SAN ANTONIO – Though the coronavirus pandemic has begun to loosen its grip as more people get vaccinated, the pandemic’s effects on the economy linger.
Many businesses have opened back up, but the job market shows some people are still struggling to find work and employers are struggling to find workers.
New data recently released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the pandemic’s impact on the local job market.
Unemployment rates hit the San Antonio area harder than the national average, according to the data.
The federal labor agency considers the San Antonio area to include Atascosa, Bandera, Bexar, Comal, Guadalupe, Kendall, Medina and Wilson counties.
In the United States, the unemployment rate sat at 4.5% in March 2020. A year later, the unemployment rate was reported at 6.2%.
The San Antonio area started out at 4.5% unemployment, too, but saw their rate hit 6.5% in March 2021.
Job loss, gain by industry
The data also showed how each industry fared in the San Antonio area.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, leisure and hospitality took the biggest hit. The sector lost roughly 18,600 jobs, an annual drop of 18.6%, in the San Antonio area. Education and health services were also impacted by the pandemic, posting a loss of roughly 7,900 jobs, a decline of 4.6%. Mining and logging took the biggest percentage drop, with the workforce slashed by 31.6%. However, because the industry is smaller, only 3,100 jobs were shed in mining and logging, the numbers showed.
On the other hand, the industries that saw a growth in jobs in the San Antonio area between March 2020 and March 2021 were manufacturing and trade. The biggest growth was seen in professional and business services sector, which grew by 11.2% and added 15,900 jobs, according to the data.
Some of those jobs are coming back. In March, employers in the United States posted a record number of job openings.
Across the country, job openings rose nearly 8%, to 8.1 million in March, the most on records dating back to December 2000, according to government figures. Job postings rose in most industries, including restaurants, bars and hotels; manufacturing; construction; and retail. They fell in health care and transportation and warehousing.
Some have pointed to ongoing unemployment aid stemming from the pandemic as a reason business owners are struggling to find people to hire. But economists find the issue to be more nuanced.
According to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, unemployment benefits are not the reason some industries are struggling to hire. Those receiving benefits “search intensely for new work, and their effort appears to be somewhat greater than that of the unemployed not receiving benefits,” the study found.
“I think there’s a lot of validity to the findings of that study,” said Thomas Tunstall, Ph.D., the executive director of the UTSA Institute for Economic Development. “I think it’s fair to say most people don’t want to sit at home.”
Many of those unemployed are still fearful of getting infected with COVID-19 and others say they are still needed at home to take care of children as schools continue to cycle between in-person and remote instruction. Some workers are also considering career changes. Restaurant workers have seen inconsistent wages from tips throughout the pandemic, marking a unique challenge for that industry.
There’s also the issue of wages. In the San Antonio area, the average wage for workers is lower than the national average. Construction jobs, for example, pay an hourly average of $16.05, while the nationwide average sits at $20.67.
Tunstall, the UTSA professor, said one solution may be to raise the national or state minimum wage.
“We’ve been kind of overdue for this discussion for a long time,” Tunstall said.
The minimum wage was last raised nationwide in 2009 to $7.25 an hour. Though other states have already raised the minimum wage, Texas has kept its wage at the federal minimum.
But what Tunstall said is clear is the issue is multi-faceted, and can’t be boiled down to one cause.
“It seems like we always want to find the one reason something is occurring,” Tunstall said. “But there’s lots of sides to this story.”