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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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Texas voters are split on whether Gov. Greg Abbott should run for a third term and whether Matthew McConaughey should run at all. But Democrats are clear: they want to see Beto O'Rourke on the ballot.
These are the findings of a Quinnipiac University poll of registered voters released this week.
Abbott and McConaughey received the highest favorability ratings of the elected officials, candidates and potential candidates, according to the Quinnipiac poll.
- Abbott: 49%
- McConaughey: 42%
- O'Rourke: 34%
- Former Texas GOP Chair Allen West: 25%
- Former Texas senator and Republican challenger Don Huffines: 8%
Overall, 48% say Abbott does not deserve to be reelected to a third term compared to 46% who say he does. "A Trump favorite in a state that is turning less red in recent election cycles, Abbott has a decent but in no way overwhelming grasp on reelection," Quinnipiac University Polling Analyst Tim Malloy said in a press release.
Abbott, McConaughey and Beto O'Rourke could vie for governor in 2022. (Office of the Texas Governor)
Voters are also divided on Matthew McConaughey, who is reportedly considering a gubernatorial run. Forty-one percent of voters say they would like to see him run, compared to 47% who say they wouldn't.
The poll found that Democrats and Independents favor the Oscar-winning Austinite, whose party affiliation is unclear. Forty-seven percent of Democrats would like to see him run, compared to 43% who wouldn't. Forty-four percent of Independents would, compared to 43% who wouldn't. Republicans, on the other hand, say 60%-29% they would not like to see him run.
Another possible candidate is former U.S. Representative and presidential hopeful Beto O'Rourke, who is also reportedly mulling a bid. Overall voters say 52%-41% they would not like to see him run for governor. But 77% of Democrats and 50% of Independents would, according to the poll.
"McConaughey and O'Rourke may still be on the fence, but their numbers suggest they have the attention of voters," Malloy said in the same release.
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Austinites will soon be able to train like some of Hollywood's biggest stars as F45, a fitness franchise backed by major celebs, like Mark Wahlberg and David Beckham, is on its way to Austin.
F45 listed Austin as the location of its corporate headquarters in a June 21 federal filing—a big shift for the California company. The fitness franchise is preparing for its initial public offering, which will be as an Austin-based company.
F45 will be one of many California companies—Tesla, Oracle and Samsung—that have recently expanded in the Capital City. The company has several famous investors on its side—famed basketball player Earvin "Magic" Johnson and golfer Greg Norman in addition to Wahlberg and Beckham.
The fitness company is opening a 44,000-square-foot headquarters, located at Penn Field on 801 Barton Springs Road, with a lease running through 2029. F45 was one of the early adopters of Austin-based real estate-technology platform AnthemIQ, helping tenants find commercial real estate.
F45 focuses on one-on-one 45-minute workouts, which patrons watch on in-studio displays. With 2,247 franchise agreements spanning across 63 countries, F45 also has offices in Australia and England.
"We believe this flexibility will enable us to capitalize on our estimated long-term global opportunity of over 23,000 studios," the company said in its filing.
The greater Austin area already has 11 F45 locations, which take up 1,600 square feet of space each.
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The staffers are coming! Texas Lege staffers turn to Twitter after special session announcement, defunding
Texas Legislature staff members have taken to social media to raise awareness—and also just air their misfortunes—following the summer special session announcement and their own defunding.
In a game-seven-type move by Texas Democrats, the 87th Texas Legislative session was capped off by a last-minute walkout to avoid a final vote on a bill that would add restrictions to voting.
Needless to say, Gov. Greg Abbott—who cheerleaded the bill throughout the legislative session—was not thrilled.
Not up to date on your Texas Lege drama? Abbott was pointing to when former Texas State Senator Wendy Davis staged a dramatic hours-long filibuster over a 2013 abortion bill, which the public gallery aided. The "story" Abbott is referring to ended with him and other prominent conservatives sweeping the 2014 statewide election and the bill passing in a special session.
According to Abbott, the regular session centered around supporting "hardworking Texans and building a state that is safer, freer, healthier, and more prosperous."
However, the two items deemed at the top of Abbott's wish list for this session—election integrity and bail reform—did not reach his desk at the end of the session, both championed by Abbott to be "must-pass emergency items."
"It is deeply disappointing and concerning for Texans that neither reached my desk," Abbott said in a statement. "Ensuring the integrity of our elections and reforming a broken bail system remain emergencies in Texas, which is why these items, along with other priority items, will be added to the special session agenda."
Abbott said he expected lawmakers to work out their differences prior to the special session and continue to pass other emergency items and priority legislation.
So, everything is cool, right? No worries?
Hours before the no vote, as the clock ran out on the bill that he championed, Abbott tweeted that he would veto funding for the entire state legislative branch. The decision would impact not only Texas lawmakers but their staff and aides. "No pay for those who abandon their responsibilities," Abbott tweeted May 31.
I will veto Article 10 of the budget passed by the legislature. Article 10 funds the legislative branch. No pay… https://t.co/KNyuNvxP55— Greg Abbott (@Greg Abbott)1622484820.0
With pay, health insurance and other support for staffers on the line, the threats became a reality on June 18 with an official veto of the funds from Abbott.
The veto effectively nixes all funding for the legislative branch.
"Texans don't run from a legislative fight and we don't walk away from an unfinished business," Abbott wrote in the veto. "Funding should not be provided for those who quit their job early, leaving their state with unfinished business and exposing taxpayers to higher costs for an additional legislative session."
However, questions have been brought up over the constitutionality of the veto itself. Section 24 of the Texas Constitution makes not paying members of the legislature illegal.
The special session is set to begin July 8. So, what does this mean for lawmakers, staffers and aides?
No pay, no insurance... and Twitter followers?
The staffers took their final stand on Twitter where they aired their grievances with the situation and asked for followers to increase their footprint.
Meet Jen Ramos, a staff member for Texas State Senator Judith Zaffarini—and also defunded by Abbott.
My name is Jen. I’m one of the #txlege staffers defunded by Greg Abbott. Apparently now I’m supposed to ask for Tw… https://t.co/pteKADP3Hj— Jen Ramos ✨ (@Jen Ramos ✨)1624466531.0
And she's not alone. Use the hashtag #txlege and you'll find other similar messages online, like Camille's and Hector's and more.
My name is Camille, my friends call me Cam or Cammie. I’m one of the #txlege staffers defunded by Greg Abbott. And… https://t.co/mOvcjxTiUL— Camille Lasin (@Camille Lasin)1624474153.0
My name is Hector. I’m one of the #txlege staffers defunded by Greg Abbott and who had to deal with elections stuff… https://t.co/88PINm9KCv— Hector 🏙🤠 (@Hector 🏙🤠)1624466987.0
My name is Jake Salinas. I'm the TX Dem that saved the film industry in TX and broke quorum on SB7 Now our Gov h… https://t.co/PLf9ScA4Ev— Jake Salinas (@Jake Salinas)1624464237.0
It's unclear whether Abbott and other prominent Republican lawmakers will come together with Democrats to overturn the veto and continue providing insurance and regular pay for lawmakers, staffers and aides.