‘It’s been a rough year for us’: Expert explains economic effects of winter storm, ongoing pandemic in Houston region

Winter Storm Uri led to closures across the Greater Houston area during the third week of February. (Courtesy Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County)
Winter Storm Uri led to closures across the Greater Houston area during the third week of February. (Courtesy Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County)

Winter Storm Uri led to closures across the Greater Houston area during the third week of February. (Courtesy Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County)

In a year when thousands of locals have lost their jobs and 1 in every 13 Houstonians has contracted COVID-19, a severe winter storm brought new complications to the region last week.

Patrick Jankowski, senior vice president of research with the Greater Houston Partnership, discussed his preliminary projections about how the storm affected the region’s economy in a presentation to partnership members Feb. 25.

“It's been a rough year for us economically; it's been a rough year for us public health wise. It's just been a rough year for us psychologically—first the coronavirus and then the freeze,” he said.

Economists at AccuWeather estimated the storm had a nationwide impact of $50 billion, including lost wages, damages, government cleanup efforts and other economic losses.

While it is still too soon to fully assess the event’s effects, Jankowski said Houston’s economic production amounts to about $1 billion in an average week.


He also clarified the storm, which shut down the local economy due to icy conditions, lost power and water issues, did not cause as much damage as Hurricane Harvey. The 2017 tropical storm damaged about 100,000 homes to unlivable conditions, and about 300,000 vehicles were destroyed, he said.

“One thing I do know is the impact of this storm fell heaviest on those people ... who could least afford it, and those tend to be the employees that were paid by the hour,” he said.

This includes about 59% of U.S. workers, or roughly 1.8 million Houstonians. Jankowski said on average, these individuals are being paid $14 an hour, which in a 40-hour work week adds up to a $560 paycheck that may never be recovered. Additionally, 700,000 Houston households are classified as ALICE workers, which stands for asset limited, income constrained and employed.

“I imagine for many of those, that’s their grocery budget for a week, or that’s what they spend on day care, or maybe that’s half a month’s rent payment,” Jankowski said.

Salaried professionals may not have been able to work even from home with no power or internet, but Jankowski said most still got paid despite falling behind on projects or having to cancel client meetings.

Those who lost power likely lost between $100-$300 in groceries, he said. Homeowners who had damages may be paying plumbers up to $175 an hour for repairs, and a drywall patching project could cost as much as $800, according to Jankowski’s research.

When it comes to the economy, the weather forced flight cancellations; restaurant and retail closures; lost production at factories and petrochemical plants; losses and delays in the supply chain; and consequences at hospitals, hotels and grocers due to power outages.

Another outcome of the freeze was a delay in COVID-19 vaccine rollout—a process which Jankowski said long-term economic recovery depends on.

The Houston metro is still down about 181,700 jobs since the start of the pandemic, and Jankowski said it would take at least two years to recover them even in a healthy economy.

He said he expects the region to begin approaching herd immunity this summer. At this point, the economy will reopen further, and pent-up demand will be released as people begin traveling and eating out again.

“We should be able to recover from this recession quicker than the Great Recession because the Great Recession was caused by financial collapse. This recession was caused by government mandate that we all stay home,” Jankowski said.
By Danica Lloyd
Danica joined Community Impact Newspaper as a Cy-Fair reporter in May 2016 after graduating with a journalism degree from Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. She covers education, local government, business, demographic trends, real estate development and nonprofits.


MOST RECENT

Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston region in 2017. (Vanessa Holt/Community Impact Newspaper)
How Harris County residents can prepare for hurricane season

After the most active hurricane season on record in 2020, Harris County officials said residents should be prepared for the upcoming season starting June 1.

More than 385,600 vaccine doses have been administered in the Cy-Fair area. (Sandra Sadek/Community Impact Newspaper)
22% of Cy-Fair residents fully vaccinated against COVID-19

As of April 19, about 385,600 doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been distributed to individuals across the 10 ZIP codes within Cy-Fair ISD’s boundaries, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo speaks at an April 19 press conference at a mass-vaccination site at NRG Park. (Screenshot courtesy Facebook Live).
Harris County accepting walk-ins for vaccine at NRG Park

As demand for vaccines has fallen, officials are looking for ways to make them more accessible.

Cy-Fair ISD's mask mandate is set to end June 7. (Courtesy Cy-Fair ISD)
End in sight for Cy-Fair ISD's mask mandate, future of virtual learning still uncertain

Superintendent Mark Henry released a statement about the future of the district's mask mandate and virtual learning option.

More COVID-19 cases were confirmed last week in Cy-Fair ISD. (Courtesy Cy-Fair ISD)
78 COVID-19 cases confirmed in Cy-Fair ISD schools April 12-18

The district saw about a 9% decrease in new cases confirmed over the previous week.

Early voting runs April 19-27 with the election on May 1. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
See what is on the ballot for May 1 elections in Cy-Fair

April 19 marks the first day of early voting for May 1 elections.

Vaccinations at any of Kelsey-Seybold Clinic's 26 Greater Houston-area locations are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. by appointment only at no cost to the individual or family. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Houston-based Kelsey-Seybold Clinic expands vaccine eligibility to age 16 and older

Vaccinations at any of Kelsey-Seybold Clinic's 26 Greater Houston-area locations are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. by appointment only at no cost to the individual or family.

Harris County residents seeking a COVID-19 vaccine will no longer be required to sign up for a waitlist effective immediately. (Courtesy Texas Children’s Hospital)
COVID-19 vaccines now available on demand in Harris County

The announcement comes as officials say vaccine demand is falling and will soon be in line with supply for the first time.

Customers can find baked goods and more at The Chef's Bag. (Courtesy The Chef's Bag)
The Chef’s Bag market now offering locally made products in Cy-Fair

Chefs Jennifer Burnett and Kevin Mason recently opened a market where community members can purchase products made by local chefs.

Costco Business Centers, of which there are only about 15 in the country, carry different products and provide a different shopping experience to members than do traditional Costco Wholesale stores. (Courtesy Costco Wholesale)
Costco Business Center being built in Stafford; see live music in The Woodlands and more top Houston-area news

Read the top business and community news from the Houston area from the past week.

The program, which began this week in San Marcos, gives Amazon and Whole Foods employees and contractors direct access to COVID-19 vaccinations. (Courtesy Amazon)
Amazon begins rollout of statewide vaccination clinics for employees

The program, which began this week in San Marcos, gives Amazon and Whole Foods employees and contractors direct access to COVID-19 vaccinations.

A grand opening for the local drive-thru coffee spot Mudslinger's has been set for the end of April. (Courtesy Facebook)
Grand opening for Mudslinger's coffee shop set for weekend of April 30

The locally-owned, drive-thru coffee shop will serve specialty coffee, tea, infused energy drinks and breakfast/pastry items.