Houston economist: Delta variant could hinder region’s job growth

Houston economist: Delta variant could hinder region’s job growth

Houston is on the road to economic recovery, according to local experts. (Courtesy Visit Houston)

If the current rate of U.S. job creation continues, the nation should recover all jobs lost during the COVID-19 pandemic by mid-2022, according to Patrick Jankowski, senior vice president of research at the Greater Houston Partnership.

“If that happens, this would be one of the quickest recoveries we’ve ever had for a U.S. recession,” he said during his first in-person presentation since before the pandemic at a Cy-Fair Houston Chamber of Commerce meeting Aug. 17.

However, Jankowski said the delta variant could delay that recovery process as COVID-19 case counts are even higher now than they were at this time last year.

Harris County Public Health reported 27,622 active COVID-19 cases on Aug. 16, 2020, and 37,205 active cases on the same date one year later, for instance.

“That’s the real issue right now that could potentially derail the growth that we’re seeing both in the U.S., globally and in Houston,” Jankowski said.

Overall, the Greater Houston area has recovered about 59% of jobs lost during the pandemic.

Most job sectors affected by social distancing in the region—such as restaurants, retail and health care—have recovered to prepandemic levels. But manufacturing, construction and energy make up almost half of the region’s jobs that have not yet been recouped, Jankowski said.

“That’s why I’m concerned that Houston will not recover as fast as the rest of the nation because we have those three industries weighing us down,” he said.

Houston ranks No. 16 of the top 20 U.S. metropolitan areas when it comes to progress toward economic recovery. Houston is behind cities including Denver, Dallas, Tampa, Detroit, Atlanta, Phoenix, Minneapolis and St. Louis. Miami, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco follow Houston on that list, Jankowski said.

While home sales are “through the roof” and vehicle sales have started to pick up in recent months, Jankowski said the office real estate market will take much longer to recover, and oil and gas jobs in the region will likely never return to prepandemic levels.

“Employment in [the] oil and gas industry right now is pretty much where it was in 2006,” he said. “We lost 15 years’ worth of job growth in oil and gas, so that’s why we need to find other industries, other things out there that will help the economy grow.”

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