The number of jobs in Fort Worth and Arlington have jumped above pre-pandemic levels, and unemployment has decreased, according to data from the Texas Workforce Commission and The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
But the news isn’t all good. Not all industries grew, and economists say inflation, labor shortages and impending policies could slow down the economy.
The Fort Worth-Arlington area had 30,800 more jobs this March than it did in March 2020, according to data from the Texas Workforce Commission. Unemployment decreased in Dallas and Fort Worth to 3.3% in March, which is below the national rate of 3.6%, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
The increase in jobs reflects the upward trend happening across Texas. The state set a record for the fifth month in a row in March and has added 731,600 positions since last March, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.
The overall job numbers don’t tell the whole story. Fort Worth has regained all its lost jobs on the back of the service sector, which includes trade, transportation and utilities, said Pia Orrenius, senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
Industries that are considered Fort Worth’s strengths, such as energy and manufacturing, have been lagging behind, she said.
“Because of the energy downturn in the beginning of the pandemic, that was actually quite devastating to the energy industry,” Orrenius said. “They laid off, like, almost over a quarter of their employees. That affects manufacturing because about a third of our manufacturing is energy related.”
Orrenius expects those industries will pick up further into the year, which is going to help job growth. Increased defense spending and increases in the price of oil and gas also bodes well for Fort Worth, since those are two major industries for the city, she said. Orrenius expects the city will continue to grow even as the national economy slows this year.
However, a tight labor market, supply chain issues and inflation may serve as obstacles to future growth.
The 3.3% unemployment rate presents a problem for employers and consumers. Firms can’t grow if they can’t hire. That can either limit the amount of products a company can produce, or force workers into overtime shifts, Orrenius said. Increased labor expenses eventually filter down to the consumer as companies increase prices to break even.
An influx of people moving to the region has helped supply workers, she said.
“We’ve been enjoying … a lot of domestic migration from other states, especially in the pandemic,” Orrenius said. “So that’s really helping us grow and helping companies here hire.”
Labor participation rates are still down, said Joshua Roberson, a senior data analyst at the Texas Real Estate Research Center. Early retirement and staying home to take care of family members or children are some factors contributing to that, he said.
Lacey Douglas, a spokesperson for Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County, said people are still searching for jobs. The organization has adapted to operate in person and online. But at the first in-person job fair event in two years, about 300 people attended. She said she’s noticed how the labor market has changed.
“Today, employers are competing for the available workforce,” Douglas said. “What we’re seeing employers do is highlighting some of their benefits, like tuition reimbursement, and or maybe they have a sign-on bonus, or a retention bonus.”
The service industry has been hit particularly hard by the labor shortage, according to previous reporting by the Fort Worth Report.
The biggest obstacle for the economy is inflation, experts say.
In March, inflation rose to 8.5% — the fastest pace since 1981. If inflation rates continue to get out of control, the Federal Reserve will take action, raising interest rates. The Federal Reserve is aiming for a soft landing: Slowing the economy, but not enough for a major downturn or recession, Orrenius said.
Roberson is skeptical because the amount of increases it might take to wrangle inflation will take a toll on jobs.
“The optimistic goal is a lot of these openings that are unfilled will just take away those job listings,” Roberson said. “That’s kind of the optimistic route. Worst-case scenario is that … employment will retract some and particularly in the lower-skilled employment sector.”
Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter at @sbodine120.