Houston's Employment Rate Improving, But Still Problematic

Latest national unemployment numbers have dropped down to under 8 percent, almost a four-year low. The Texas job market has been doing much better than other states, but with an unemployment rate right at 7 percent, it's still not so good. 

The fifty or so computers at the Workforce Solutions center on Westheimer are full. Howard Wilkins is one of the people standing at a computer, looking at job posting sites. Wilkins used to work as a project manager, and he's been looking for a new job since his contract ended six months ago.

"Contrary to what you hear out in the news, it's not picked up.  I think it's really slower, and the jobs that are available are not job specific."

People seeking employment through Workforce SolutionsBefore noon, Wilkins has already sent out 25 to 30 faxes to companies, and he's created alerts from the major job posting sites. Dolores Anderson, who's waiting for a computer, has got a job. But she wants something better than substitute teaching.  She's been looking since July, and Anderson is not too worried yet.

"I say, 'Okay, well the season I'm in right now, it may take me six months to land something.  You know, and I think that's because it may be an election year, everybody's kind of stagnant."

Anderson knows friends and relatives looking for work too: certified teachers who are working as subsitutes, a recently laid-off legal secretary and a police officer. In the Houston Sugarland Baytown area, more than 200,000 people are unemployed, according to the latest Texas Workforce Commission numbers.  John Diamond, a fellow at Rice University's Baker Institute, says that the seven percent unemployment rate for the region 'just isn't good.'

"I do think Houston is doing relatively better than some other places. You know, that doesn't mean it's a good situation. It just means that it's not as bad here as it is in some other places."

Charles Vantine with a Truck Driver temp agencyDiamond says Houston's current unemployment rate is still well above what economists consider a normal rate. At least one very specific industry in Texas is looking to hire a lot more workers.  Charles Vantine, with a Truck Driver temp agency, is looking to hire drivers. Judging from the empty table at the workforce site, he's not having much luck.

"The oil and gas industry has come through this part of this country and taken a lot of drivers to the oil fields - by a lot.  You know, there are a lot of folks that I'd like to hire out there but they just don't have the qualifications."

Those qualifications are clean driving records and clean enough criminal records. It's been the toughest time for him to recruit in the past 15 years, he says. And there are other sectors that are hiring too, like oil and gas and manual labor. Rocio Hall,an employment counselor at Workforce Solutions,  says placement has slowed down in the last month or so. And she's noticed another trend also in the past month.

"What I've been notice is that a lot of people from other states are coming here to get a job.  People from all over the country, from California, Colorado, ah, you name it."

She says it's a little scary, a bit more challenging, because that means more people to place.