Why is Austin's near record-low unemployment a concern to some economists and officials?

Image description
Help Wanted
Image description
CTA_2018_04-18-24-1
Image description
Help Wanted
Image description
Help Wanted
Image description
CTA_2018_04-18-1-1
The Austin-Round Rock area’s unemployment rate has dropped to a near record-low, and according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, last year it created jobs faster than all but one of America’s major metropolitan areas.

According to numbers from the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, if everyone looking for work in the region found employment, there would still be more than 5,000 job openings.

Although many agree more jobs are better than no jobs, city leaders, labor experts and economists say the numbers show a mismatch between the skills desired by employers and the skills held by those in the region looking for work.

"It’s a serious concern,” Austin economist Angelos Angelou said. “We are creating a lot of jobs, but those job candidates are coming from [outside of the Austin area].”

Officials blame the area’s rapid in-migration for increasing demand on the city’s real estate market and exacerbating pressures on its mobility system. As the area becomes less affordable, the pressure is acutely felt by the unemployed and those working low-wage, low-skill jobs, they say.

The Austin area was recently named as a finalist to land Amazon.com Inc.’s second headquarters and its promised 50,000 high-wage jobs.  However, in the midst of a rising affordability crisis and an apparent workforce skills gap, many in the community question whether that would be best for Austin.

Up-skilling the workforce

Although considered a high-tech city, Angelou estimates that such jobs account for only 22 percent of Austin’s economy. A large percentage of job growth and openings are middle-skill jobs—positions that require post-high school education or certifications.

Kwee Lan Teo, vice president of talent development and acquisition at the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, said the skills gap is most evident in these middle-skill positions. Teo said roughly 60 percent of the area’s job openings in 2017 required post-high school education or certification, which disqualified roughly 63 percent of the area’s unemployed job seekers.

“It’s a challenge,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said. “What we’re focused on is the mismatch between available jobs and the people that live here in order to slow some of the importing of people to fill jobs.”

Adler said there are only two ways to fight an affordability crisis: make necessary goods cheaper or give people opportunities to make more money.

Last year regional leaders took the first step in attempting the latter through the creation of the Austin Metro Area Master Community Workforce Plan. Touted as the first of its kind in the country, government entities, workforce organizations and educational institutions are coming together to fund and provide opportunities for the region’s unemployed and underemployed to learn the skills and earn the degrees and certifications necessary to qualify for middle-skill, living-wage jobs.

Tiffany Daniels, director of communications with Workforce Solutions Capital Area—a nonprofit organization leading the implementation of the plan—said up-skilling the workforce benefits residents and employers, as it is more cost-effective and reliable to hire local.

Daniels said the goal is to give everyone in the region an opportunity to benefit from the area’s rapid economic growth.

“It’s a great time right now for job-seekers,” Daniels said. “But only if you have the exact skill set employers are looking for. That’s our challenge.”
SHARE THIS STORY
By Christopher Neely

Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Su


MOST RECENT

Courtesy Jet
Electric motorbike company Jet opens in South Central Austin

Jet, a local business that rents and sells electric motorbikes and offers tours around Austin, opened Dec. 20 …

Garrett Leight California Optical now open on South Congress

Garrett Leight California Optical opened its fifth store at 1333 S. Congress Ave., Ste. 120, Austin, in …

Austin City Council is poised to make a final vote on the land development code rewrite by early April. (CHRISTOPHER NEELY/COMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER)
Austin’s eight-year effort to rewrite land code advances to final vote with City Council's second-round approval

A majority of Austin City Council voted in favor of the land development code rewrite, setting the stage for a final vote on a project that has exhausted the community for roughly eight years.

Early voting for the March primary election runs from Feb. 18 through Feb. 28. (Emma Freer/Community Impact Newspaper)
MAP: Find your early voting locations in Central Austin

The early voting period for the March 3 primary election begins Feb. 18 and ends Feb. 28.

Easy Tiger announced Mike Stitt (right) as its news CEO. He will lead the bakery along with founder and head baker David Norman (left). The restaurant will open a location on South Lamar Boulevard in winter 2020. Courtesy Easy Tiger.
Bake shop and beer garden Easy Tiger to open in South Austin

Easy Tiger will open a third location in the former Red's Porch space in South Austin.

Lammes Candies has a shop off Anderson Lane. (Amy Denney/Community Impact Newspaper)
Lammes Candies celebrates 135 years and 5th anniversary of North Austin shop

Lammes Candies opened its Anderson Lane shop five years ago.

Courtesy Poke Austin
Six restaurants coming soon to Central Austin

Houston restaurant Local Foods and Reunion 19 from Los Angeles chef Esdras Ochoa will be opening soon.

Courtesy TenTen
11 restaurants that recently opened in Central Austin

New options include the second location for Little Deli & Pizzeria and Tiff's Treats Cookie Delivery expanding to Oltorf Street

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first case of COVID-19 in San Antonio on Feb. 13. The case is the 15th known COVID-19, commonly referred to in recent weeks as coronavirus, infection in the United States so far. (Courtesy Adobe stock photos)
The first coronavirus case in Texas was just confirmed. Here is what Austinites need to know about the virus

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first case of COVID-19 in San Antonio this morning, according to a news release from the federal agency.

SuperShuttle of Austin rebrands to Carter Transportation of Austin

SuperShuttle of Austin rebranded as Carter Transportation Austin as of Dec. 16 after the SuperShuttle parent …

The Troubadour. Rendering Courtesy Wayfinder Real Estate
New apartment building The Troubadour breaks ground along I-35

Austin-based developer Wayfinder Real Estate broke ground on The Troubadour, a 321-unit apartment building in …

Austin Mayor Steve Adler (center), flanked by Assistant City Manager Christopher Shorter and City Attorney Ann Morgan, listen to public testimony on the land development code rewrite Dec. 7. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Tense land development code debate leaves Austin City Council members concerned over tenor of proceedings

Climate change denial and a sweeping compromise proposal highlighted Austin City Council's debate over long-awaited changes to its land development code.

Back to top