Two positive reports on job growth released Friday brightened the outlook for the economy in Texas and throughout the country.
The Texas unemployment rate dropped to 5.7 percent in January, the lowest since November 2008, the Texas Workforce Commission reported, marking the sixth consecutive month of improvement.
And in Washington, the government said the national economy added 175,000 jobs in February. And more workers came into the labor force, sending the jobless rate up a tenth of a percentage point to 6.7 percent.
“The job numbers were encouraging and suggest the economy is weathering the bad weather well,” said Mark Zandi, the chief economist for Moody’s Analytics. “Job growth will improve with warmer temperatures. Underlying job growth is closer to 200,000 per month, and we should see a couple of months of well over that this spring.”
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The January figures for Texas, released two weeks later than normal as the state made annual revisions, showed employers added 33,900 non-farm jobs to their payrolls, bringing the seasonally adjusted jobless rate down from 6.0 percent in December. For the past 12 months, employers have added 322,400 jobs, TWC said.
Fort Worth-Arlington recorded a 5.7 percent unemployment rate in January. That’s unadjusted for seasonal fluctuations and compares to a seasonally unadjusted rate of 5.8 for Texas and 7 percent for the nation in January.
In Texas, the mining category, which includes oil and gas jobs, showed the strongest percentage growth for the past year, up 5.6 percent, or 15,800 positions. Trade, transportation and utilities showed the biggest growth in numbers, adding 77,300 jobs, or 3.5 percent.
Midland, in the heart of the booming Permian Basin oil-producing region, had the state’s lowest unemployment rate, 2.9 percent, followed by nearby Odessa at 3.6 percent. McAllen-Edinburg-Mission in the Lower Rio Grande Valley had the highest rate, 10.5 percent. All those metro rates are not seasonally adjusted.
Nationwide, white-collar professional and business services led the way in February, adding 79,000 jobs. Temporary employment, usually a harbinger of future full-time hiring, added almost 25,000 jobs last month.
“All around, a solid employment report for the month of February that bodes well for better job and income growth in the months ahead,” said Scott Anderson, chief economist for San Francisco-based Bank of the West.
Most economists still expect weather to slow the growth rate for the first three months of this year. That’s after a sluggish 2.4 percent annual growth rate from October through December, a number that few economists think will be matched over the first quarter of this year.
Deeper in the report, there was an outsized increase in average hourly earnings of almost half a percentage point. That’s a year-over-year gain of 2.2 percent, suggesting that workers might begin commanding greater wages.
Wages have been unusually flat since the end of the Great Recession in 2009 as the supply of workers far exceeded the demand for them. That gap seems to be narrowing, and Anderson called it “a positive signal that a lower unemployment rate could begin to boost wages and incomes for American households.”
February’s bounce-back in hiring suggests an underlying strength in the economy, one that withstood an unusually harsh winter.
“Weather did have an impact, as it crimped the job gains and, more significantly, reduced hours worked,” Zandi said. “The number of workers employed part time due to weather but usually work full time jumped to … more than five times February’s historical average.”
This article includes material from staff writer Jim Fuquay and Kevin Hall in the Star-Telegram’s Washington bureau.