Austin is facing a worsening worker shortage that spans industries and could prove more economically damaging than the pandemic.
In April there were 1.5 unemployed Texas residents for each advertised vacancy, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. This shortage is not unique to Austin or Texas. Instead, it's a "national economic crisis that is getting steadily worse," according to a report released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce this week. The lobbying group found that there are approximately half as many available workers for every open job as there have been on average over the last 20 years and the ratio continues to fall.
(U.S. Chamber of Commerce)
Although Texas is impacted, it is doing better than some states, notable South Dakota, Nebraska and Vermont, where there are fewer potential workers than available jobs, according to the same report.
A widespread problem
"Now hiring" signs are commonplace in local restaurant windows. The restaurant and hospitality jobs site Poached lists more than 1,000 jobs in the Austin area posted within the last month. The city of Austin is short 600 lifeguards and is unable to expand opening hours or open additional pools as a result. Local residents may have noticed higher rideshare costs as both Uber and Lyft are facing a driver shortage as well, according to KXAN.
Skilled trade and manufacturing industries are also facing a hiring crunch, leading to project delays. A 2020 projection shows Austin will be short 3,130 workers across its 10 most in-demand trade and manufacturing occupations over the next decade, according to a recent report by Workforce Solutions of the Capital Area.
Many business owners lay blame for this worker shortage on pandemic-era unemployment benefits. In a recent survey conducted by the Texas Association of Business, 80% of the 177 business respondents said the $300 federal weekly unemployment benefit should be eliminated, citing it as a barrier to hiring. "This (shortage) is strange because there are still a lot of people out of work," CEO Glenn Hamer said. "It doesn't seem to make sense."
Aware of these concerns, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced last month that Texas will opt out of this benefit effective June 26. But economists told Austonia that multiple factors are at play in conjunction with unemployment benefits, including low wages, school and child-care closures that keep parents at home and fear of COVID-19.
Juan Benitez, director of communications for Workers Defense Project, which represents low-wage, immigrant workers in the construction industry, said essential workers are looking for jobs that offer essential protections, such as a living wage, health insurance and safe working conditions.
"This has been a pretty disastrous year for workers," Benitez said, citing a 2020 study that found Austin construction workers were five times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID than workers in other occupations. "Instead of going back to quote-unquote normal, we should be thinking about, 'How do we actually address a lot of the issues that COVID has shed new light on?'"
Workers Defense Project members participated in a third strike outside of the Texas Capitol last month. State lawmakers approved a bill that would prohibit local governments from mandating benefits such as water breaks and paid sick leave. (Workers Defense Project/Workers Defense Action Fund)
A workers' market
Local businesses are offering increased wages and new benefits in an effort to entice workers.
The median pay for Austin Uber drivers is $33 an hour, before tips, CEO Dara Khosrowskahi said during the company's first-quarter earnings call last month. Local companies P. Terry's and JuiceLand also recently raised their wages, the latter in response to an ongoing worker strike. "There's newfound worker power and people power and more reason to organize around labor," Benitez said.
Hamer is optimistic that the combination of "all-time high" wages, an end to the temporary federal unemployment benefits and the continued reopening of the economy will coincide with increased interest in open positions. "There has never been a better time to enter or reenter the labor force," he said.
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Officials are asking certain residents in Bastrop State Park to evacuate as crews work to put out a “very active fire” that is currently 0% contained.
The Texas A&M Forest Service has responded to help local fire departments with the Rolling Pines Fire at 100 Park Road 1A, which is consuming 300 acres. Residents of Pine Hill Drive, Pine Tree Loop, Linda Lane and Lisa Lane are being asked to evacuate.
Today’s Bastrop Rolling Pines Fire is burning along Power Plant Road towards Lake Bastrop South Shore. pic.twitter.com/YCvJkIAg1u
— BastropCntyTexas OEM (@BastropCntyOEM) January 18, 2022
Aviation resources have been called to assist.
According to the Bastrop County Office of Emergency Management, the wildfire sparked during a prescribed burn that took place today, despite wildfire warnings. Park Road 1C from Harmon Road to Park Road 1A had been closed for the prescribed burn.
The blaze is in the same location as the Bastrop Complex Fire of 2011, which burned for 55 days, killing two people, destroying 34,000 acres and around 1,700 homes and buildings. The fire, which started in 2011, became the most destructive wildfire in Texas at the time.
A hotbed for fires, the Hidden Pines Fire started at the same location in 2015, destroying 4,600 acres and 64 structures.
Some road closures have been put in place at State Highway 21 South Shore Lake Bastrop and East State Highway 21.
This is a developing story and will be updated as information becomes available.
After months of record-setting periods for Austin real estate, the Austin Board of Realtors announced Tuesday that the metro's housing market accounted for over $23 billion of economic activity in 2021, making it the biggest year yet for both home sales and median home prices in the metro.
The Austin-Round Rock MSA saw 41,316 homes sold in 2021, 2.5% more than a record-setting 2020. Median home prices skyrocketed as well, rising 30.8% from 2020 to $450,000. The housing market also saw unprecedented impact on Austin's economy, with sales dollar volume jumping to over $23.38 billion, and more homes hit the market in 2021 than any previous year, increasing by 5.9% to 46,449 total homes listed.
(Austin Board of Realtors)
As many recent Austin homebuyers have experienced firsthand, Austin Board of Realtors 2022 President Cord Shiflet said 2021 was the most "exciting, complicated, fast-paced and record-setting housing market" in Austin's history.
Shiflet dubbed the market as "complicated" for a reason—Austin became a case study on supply and demand in 2021, with demand far outpacing the number of active listings, which dropped by 48.2% to 2,348 homes in 2021.
The metro ended the year with 0.6 months of inventory, a far cry from a "healthy" six-month supply, and houses were snatched at breakneck speeds, spending 25 fewer days on the market when compared to 2020. The average home was on the market for 20 days.
But low inventory is more due to high demand than a stagnant homebuilding market, Mark Sprague, Independence Title's state director of information capital, said in the report.
“In 2021, the record number of homes sold were demand-driven transactions and that demand was influenced greatly by companies continuing to target the region for job creation and expansion," Sprague said. "Even though more homes are being built, listed and sold than ever before, our region is still nowhere close to having a comfortable amount of supply to meet the demand, which is why home prices continue to rise steadily.”
Over 23,000 jobs have been promised by companies across the metro as of December 2021, breaking the 2020 record, according to Opportunity Austin, the economic development arm of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. With an influx of major factories and offices, including Tesla's Giga Texas, Samsung's Taylor plant and a planned 33-floor Facebook office, Sprague said the region's booming market paired with a struggling inventory and supply chain issues could be a double-edged sword in 2022.
"In short, 2022 will see a robust market for home sales and property values, but the region must do more to address inventory, ” Sprague said.
Shiflet recommended that potential homebuyers make a decision ahead of predicted increases in interest rates and home prices and said that he hopes local politicians will continue to prioritize affordable housing in the election year.
Still, Shiflet said a record-breaking housing market reflects Austin's growing reputation as a hub for talent, tech jobs and a good quality of life.
"With all the new jobs across the region from exciting companies like Tesla and Samsung, Austin was put on the world’s stage and captured the hearts and attention of so many," Shiflet said. "We are lucky to call Austin our home when it has so much to offer from a great quality of life to a wonderful destination for innovation and opportunity.”
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