hits keep coming
COVID-19 could cost Houston 44,000 jobs by the end of the year, says local economist
No matter whether the outlook leans more toward optimism or pessimism, Houston stands to lose a head-spinning number of jobs in the grips of a coronavirus-induced recession.
Economist Bill Gilmer, director of the Institute for Regional Forecasting at the University of Houston's Bauer College of Business, says a moderate recession could drain as many as 44,000 jobs from the regional economy by the end of 2020. That's out of nearly 3.2 million workers in the Houston metro area.
The job figures might look "much worse" through the second and third quarters of this year, Gilmer says. However, he adds, Houston's job losses should be followed by a "quick recovery" in 2021.
A study published March 27 by personal finance website SmartAsset predicts an even greater impact on employment in Houston.
SmartAsset forecasts 56,469 full-time and part-time jobs in just the city of Houston, or nearly 5 percent of the local workforce, could be lost in a coronavirus recession. In all, more than 282,000 jobs, or 24.6 percent of the city's workforce, could be in jeopardy, according to the study.
John Diamond, director of the Center for Public Finance at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy, says he thinks Smart Asset's job-loss estimate is "decent" but might be too low.
In light of the federal government's extension of social-distancing guidelines to April 30 and perhaps further extensions, Diamond believes Houston will suffer "substantial" job losses in the next two to four months. After the social-distancing rules are relaxed, Diamond expects an employment bounce-back later in the year.
"The recovery could be rapid if business supply chains and networks remain intact," Diamond says, "and if oil prices rebound by the end of the year."
For his part, Ed Hirs, an economics lecturer at the University of Houston, pessimistically envisions about 300,000 people in the Houston metro area will lose their jobs, at least in the short term, due to the coronavirus recession and the recent plunge in oil prices. (By comparison, the Economic Policy Institute projects the entire state of Texas will lose 442,717 private-sector jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.)
"COVID-19 is going to be kind of a catch-all spring cleaning excuse for a lot of the oil and gas companies as they try to reduce their payroll," Hirs says.
For now, though, concerns about the oil war between Russia and Saudi Arabia must "take a back seat" to concerns about COVID-19, he says.
Aside from the energy industry, the escalating economic slump promises to hit several other prominent business sectors in Houston, including hospitality and manufacturing. Hirs thinks a recession could shrink Houston's 2020 economic output by 10 percent.
"This is across the board," he says, "and has the potential to be extraordinarily devastating."
ThinkWhy, a labor analysis firm, believes the impact of the COVID-outbreak on the Houston job market will be more evident in the blow it delivers to international trade than in any boost it provides to the health care sector. "But the pandemic will no doubt have an impact on both," the firm says.
It's already having a tremendous impact on small and midsize businesses in the Houston area. A March 23-28 survey by the Greater Houston Partnership found 34 percent of those businesses already had reduced their headcounts in response to the COVID-19 slowdown. And 55 percent said they're unsure whether they'll wind up carrying out permanent layoffs in the next six months."Houstonians like to embrace the notion that their metro was among the last to enter the Great Recession and was among the first to exit. That's not going to be the case this time," economist Patrick Jankowski, senior vice president of research at the Greater Houston Partnership, wrote in an unvarnished economic assessment published March 20. "All three pillars of Houston's economy — energy, global trade, and the U.S. economy — are tottering. The next 12 to 18 months will likely be very rough for Houston."