Greater Houston area sees around 400,000 unemployment claims in March, April

Many businesses across Houston have laid off employees in response to the coronavirus. (Courtesy Visit Houston)
Many businesses across Houston have laid off employees in response to the coronavirus. (Courtesy Visit Houston)

Many businesses across Houston have laid off employees in response to the coronavirus. (Courtesy Visit Houston)

With nearly every industry in the metropolitan area facing a downturn due to the coronavirus pandemic, Houstonians can expect to continue seeing an elevated level of unemployment claims in the coming weeks, according to Patrick Jankowski, senior vice president of research for the Greater Houston Partnership.

Jankowski said he estimates 407,237 unemployment insurance claims have been filed in the Greater Houston area from March 1-April 25. While that number does not quite reflect the true number of jobs lost, it represents a significant increase over the 27,012 claims made during the same time frame in 2019.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance in the U.S. began trending down in early April, but Jankowski said many individuals are still having issues filing claims, so he expects to see high levels of claims for several more weeks.

Houston’s unemployment rate is likely somewhere in the mid-teens, according to Jankowski’s estimates.

"I can definitely see this unemployment rate being the highest it’s ever been on record,” he said during an April 28 webinar.

These rates are worse than during the Great Recession when 1 in 22 Houstonians lost their jobs, and they are nearing the severity of the oil bust of the 1980s when 1 in 7 Houstonians lost their jobs, he said.

The job sectors hit the hardest statewide during the pandemic include hotels, restaurants and bars; retail trade; and health care, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. Hospitality may be one of the last sectors to fully recover from the pandemic, as Jankowski said families may be hesitant to travel and be uncomfortable attending large gatherings for awhile.

Gov. Greg Abbott has implemented a plan to gradually reopen some businesses as early as May 1, but some Houston-area businesses might not yet be prepared.

The GHP conducted a survey of its members April 20-22 regarding plans to reopen safely. Social distancing was a top concern for businesses, followed by access to personal protective equipment, access to financial capital, access to child care and liability protections should an employee test positive for COVID-19.

While state officials are eager to reopen the economy in Texas, the aftermath of the coronavirus will have a lasting effect on the nation.

Housing starts in the U.S. are down 22.3% and vehicle sales are down 32.2% since 2019—two key economic indicators that Jankowski said are a concern.

“It’s a bit of a sign of ... consumer apprehension,” he said. “Most consumers aren’t going to buy a car or they’re not going to buy a house if they’re worried about being able to make [payments].”
By Danica Lloyd

Editor, Cy-Fair

Danica joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in 2016. As editor, she continues to cover local government, education, health care, real estate, development, business and transportation in Cy-Fair. Her experience prior to CI includes studying at the Washington Journalism Center and interning at a startup incubator in D.C., serving as editor-in-chief of Union University's student magazine and online newspaper, reporting for The Jackson Sun and freelancing for other publications in Arkansas and Tennessee.