Unemployment rates drop but concern rises for workforce


Unemployment rates in Tyler and Texas as a whole have dropped again — and are nearing the point when good news becomes mixed news.

New numbers from the Texas Workforce Commission said the state had a net gain of 7,100 nonagricultural jobs in February, putting the state's unemployment rate at 4.3 percent, down from 4.4 percent in January.

Texas continues to see better unemployment rates than the national average, which is now 5.5.

The Tyler area saw similar numbers; unemployment dropped from 4.4 percent in January to 4.3 percent.

Statewide, the unemployment rate is down from 5.7 percent in February 2014.

Those figures, of course, don't tell the whole story. Unemployment statistics don't include the important economic factors of underemployment and workforce participation.

Underemployment is when an employee is working part-time and would rather work full-time; workforce participation is the rate at which eligible workers are either employed or actively seeking employment.

Still, the decline in unemployment is good news — for now. Economists warn that when unemployment drops, employers start worrying they won't find a willing and qualified pool of potential workers. They can delay relocations and expansions.

"When we have unemployment rates drop to 4 to 5 percent, we see both good and bad news," said Tom Mullins, President and CEO of the Tyler Economic Development Council. "We are happy to see so many people employed but it becomes harder for companies to find qualified and experienced labor.It also hurts us when we are talking with prospects considering Tyler for an expansion or relocation. They become concerned with being able to find enough people for the jobs they need to fill."

That's not happening quite yet, state officials said.

"We are pleased that Texas employers continue to create opportunities," Texas Workforce Commission Chairman Andres Alcantar said in a release. "Our state offers many competitive advantages to employers who choose to do business in Texas, including a highly skilled workforce."

Oil price fluctuations continue to have a big effect on the state's economy, said economist Vance Ginn of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

"Lower oil prices contributed to 3,500 fewer net jobs in the oil and gas sector, weighing down employment, but lower gasoline prices helped drive more job creation in other sectors, such as a 16,300 jobs added in the retail trade, transportation and utilities industry," he said. "Overall, net job growth was 357,300 during the last 12 months, creating more opportunities for all Texans to prosper."


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