Mary Mentesana sees the stats: Texas continues to generate jobs, far more than any other state.
But she hasn't gotten an offer.
She figures she has applied for 75 jobs since losing her post as an office administrator for a major investment firm in March. She's focusing now on jobs for assistants that pay half the $50,000 she was making. Her unemployment benefits run out in 13 weeks, and she says she has no savings after caring for her parents for 10 years.
"I get up, I look on the Internet, I go to indeed.com, I network through my friends, I volunteer at Bass Hall, I volunteer at church," said Mentesana, 49, who lives in an apartment in Keller. "I'm just keeping busy doing the things I know to do."
Mentesana, who spent two days before Christmas trolling for leads at Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County, knows she isn't alone.
For her and other job-seekers, 2012 may be just as tough. Texas added 226,000 jobs in 2011 through November, up 2.2 percent. But it has also added residents, increasing competition in the job market and leaving the state's unemployment rate at a relatively high 8.1 percent in November.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas is forecasting slower job growth next year, of 1.5 to 2 percent, citing reduced government hiring and a projected slowdown in exports because of financial problems in Europe.
"If we grow at this year's pace, that would be a good outcome," said Pia Orrenius, a Dallas Fed senior economist.
Where the jobs are
But even in this uncertain economy, pockets of the job market remain vibrant. Economists and other experts point to several sectors that are projected to generate jobs over the next several years.
Financial services, healthcare, information technology, management, teaching and energy are high on the Texas Workforce Commission's list of growth sectors for Tarrant County through 2018.
"There's a lot of entry-level jobs, as well as higher-paying, more professional and technical jobs," said Jann Miles, strategic planning unit director at Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County. "We have a pretty balanced economy."
Engineers -- aerospace, petroleum and software among them -- continue to be in demand.
Information technology is "strong again," Miles said. "People who can develop apps are being hired straight out of college."
Healthcare, driven by an aging populace, will continue to spin off jobs ranging from medical assistants to doctors, Miles said.
Maturing Barnett Shale production has meant more administrative and managerial jobs related to the oil and gas industry, Miles said.
Teachers will be in demand, given Texas' population growth, she said.
"It just makes sense when you consider how many people are moving here," Miles said. "The problem is the economics haven't been worked out."
Financial advisers, the fastest-growing U.S. job category, will continue to be in high demand, the commission projects.
"The financial sector has a certain amount of volatility to it, but everybody is trying to figure out what to do with their money," Miles said.
With the region a major hub, logistics spawns warehouse, truck-driving and other jobs. The retail and food service sectors are generating entry-level jobs, Miles said.
Manufacturing's long-term outlook is boosted by foreign trade, the auto sector, expansion at the Port of Houston, the energy sector and highway construction, said Nathaniel Karp, chief economist for BBVA Compass, which has branches in Texas and elsewhere in the South.
Karp expects Texas to continue generating 15,000 to 20,000 jobs per month, a little less than in 2011 and well below pre-recession peaks of 27,000 in 2006 and 2007.
"If we keep that pace, that's pretty solid," he said.
He cites Texas' numerous built-in strengths to keep it ahead of the U.S. overall.
"We have a very solid base on the export side; our major trading partners are doing relatively well," he said. "It's one of the few states in the nation where employment in the manufacturing sector is growing. Texas continues to attract people from other states."
One example: General Electric will add more than 600 jobs in far north Fort Worth next year when it opens factories to build locomotives and mining equipment.
The state's hospitality industry continues to grow, he said, and professional and business services are doing well. Construction "is obviously suffering, but I think the worst is over," he said.
And the outlook has brightened for new college grads.
Employers continue to increase their hiring projections, the National Association of Colleges and Employers found in an annual fall survey.
Responding employers said they expect to hire 9.5 percent more new grads in 2011-12, and more than half plan to raise their number of hires.
Among employers that plan to boost hiring, more than half indicated that their companies have more business or are growing.
Oil and gas extraction firms topped the survey, with employers expecting 19.4 percent more hiring.
Utilities, construction, chemical manufacturing, and computer and electronics manufacturing rounded out the top five.
NACE follows up with a spring survey that generally reflects actual hiring.
"Nine percent is OK right now, but a more robust economy would push it up to 12 to 15 percent," said Ed Koc, the association's research director.
Area job-networking groups continue to encourage members -- especially older ones -- to broaden their skills.
A big bright spot at the Southlake Focus Group, Tarrant County's most prominent group, came this fall when a recruiter for Carlisle & Gallagher, a firm doing loan paperwork reviews for banks, announced at a meeting that it was hiring 250 contract analysts in Dallas.
The company hired at least 20 Southlake members.
About a quarter of the Southlake group's landings this year were for contract or temporary work.
"As a futurist, I believe in the prediction that in 10 years, half of all American workers will be independent," said Doug Anderson, a member of the Southlake group's leadership team and a consultant who recently launched a firm called the Solopreneur Center.
Scott Nishimura, 817-390-7808