money problems

Houston ranks No. 3 on list of cities with the most people in financial distress amid COVID-19

Out of the largest 100 cities in the country, Houston ranks high up on the list that evaluated personal financial distress of citizens. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

During the pandemic-produced recession, debt and loans are weighing heavily on the hearts and minds of Houstonians.

A study released this week by personal finance website WalletHub found Houston ranks first among the country's 100 largest United States cities for online searches about debt and first for online searches about loans. Overall, Houston ranks third for financial distress, behind first-place Las Vegas and second-place Chicago.

To examine where Americans are struggling the most financially, WalletHub compared the 100 largest cities across nine key metrics. Factors taken into consideration include average credit score, number of bankruptcy filings between June 2020 and June 2019, and online searches regarding debt and loans.

Aside from sitting at No. 1 for interest in debt and loans, Houston ranks:

  • No. 9 for share of people with accounts in distress in September
  • No. 9 for average number of accounts in distress in September
  • No. 12 for average credit score in September

WalletHub defines a distressed account as one for which payments have been reduced, skipped or delayed.

Among Texas cities, Houston has a lot of company in WalletHub's top 10. San Antonio appears at No. 4, Dallas at No. 5, Austin at No. 8, and Fort Worth at No. 10. In all, the ranking includes 13 Texas cities. Irving demonstrates the most financial stability of the 13 cities, according to WalletHub, with its financial stress ranking at No. 72.

As with almost every U.S. city, Houston has been whacked by the recession. In September, the metro area's unemployment rate stood at 9.6 percent, up from 8.1 percent the previous month. Compared with the state's three other major metro areas, Houston's September unemployment rate was the highest. The September jobless rate was 6.4 percent in Austin, 7.4 percent in Dallas, 7.6 percent in Fort Worth, and 7.8 percent in San Antonio. The statewide unemployment rate was 8.3 percent, while the nationwide unemployment rate was 7.7 percent.

One of the main drivers of Houston's high unemployment rate is the ongoing slump in the U.S. oil, gas, and chemical industry. A report released October 5 by consulting giant Deloitte showed the nationwide sector shed 107,000 jobs from March to August.

"We will never see oil and gas employment get back to where it was in December 2014. Employment in the industry today is pretty much where it was in 2006," Patrick Jankowski, senior vice president of research at the Houston Partnership, said in June. "Energy has been real good to Houston. It's still a big part of our economy, but we cannot rely on it like we have in the past."

A September report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas noted that the Houston area is in recovery mode, but the pace has slowed, mostly due to weakness in the energy sector. The report says "that while Houston's recovery is likely to continue, it will lag the state."

The report adds that the Houston area had recovered 33 percent of pandemic-era job losses as of August, compared with 42 percent across Texas and 48 percent nationwide.

Of course, the pandemic recession also has hammered the hospitality industry.

During his State of the City address on October 22, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said said 196 meetings, conferences, and conventions in the city had been canceled or rescheduled since March. The result: an estimated economic loss of $332 million. The city's hotel occupancy rate stands at a meager 44 percent, according to Turner, with the rate for downtown hotels at only 17 percent.

The pandemic's impact during the rest of 2020 and into 2020 "will be significant for our hospitality community," the mayor said.

Despite the downturn in the energy and hospitality sectors, Turner and others feel optimistic about what's ahead for Houston.

"As we gradually take steps to reopen, we recognize that the full recovery will take several years, but when we work together, we put ourselves in the best position to manage the virus and rebound from it," Turner said. "As we move forward through these unprecedented times, the city's foundation is strong, the city itself is resilient, and the city's future is bright."

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