Even before the pandemic, Texas schools faced daunting challenges. About 88% of students were economically disadvantaged. Two ethnic groups that comprised about two-thirds of enrollment (and rapidly growing) held less than 8% of the state's wealth. Many districts had massive infrastructure deficiencies, while others struggled to keep pace with explosive growth. As if that weren't enough, Texas ranked 41st nationally in spending per student.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits in the US fell to 684,000 in late March for the first time in a year. Believe it or not, that's important. "Initial claims" sounds like something only an economist could love (and a nerdy one at that). This weekly statistic represents the first filing for unemployment for a specific claim--basically layoffs or jobs that have recently been eliminated. We normally don't pay much attention to it, but it got more headlines during the pandemic as a weekly barometer for how the economy was faring.
It's now been a year since COVID-19 began to upend the lives of people around the world. The human cost has been tragic, and measures needed to slow the spread of the virus have also taken a toll on mental health and wellbeing. From an economic perspective, the pandemic has caused substantial and, in many cases, catastrophic losses.
The latest stimulus comes with a price tag of $1.9 trillion, adding to the $4 trillion authorized last year. The final bill is a "mixed bag," with numerous provisions crucial to sustaining the recovery but others less essential. Such is inevitably the case when anything of significance grinds its way through the Congressional sausage-maker. Make no mistake, however, a substantial package was indeed necessary.
The recent extreme winter weather is unprecedented in Texas. Records were shattered, and the cold lingered for a spell. Most people had to deal with power outages (sometimes for days in freezing temperatures) and millions had no water (again for an extended period). The resulting stress and suffering defies measurement, particularly coming on the heels of a year of COVID-19.
With the spread of COVID-19 in early 2020, one of the vital services impacted was public transit. Ridership across the nation plummeted due to safety concerns, falling to 80% below normal early on and lingering around 60% below 2019 levels at the end of 2020. Public transit ridership in Texas was slightly more stable, ending the year at around 50% of prior rates in major metros such as Houston and Austin (hardly a distinction).
Every industry has been impacted by the pandemic, though obviously to varying degrees. In construction, work substantially slowed in most segments in 2020, although housing (buoyed by historically low mortgage rates) was one relative bright spot. Many contractors faced delayed or cancelled projects due to lower economic activity and uncertainty. According to a survey from the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), 44% of contractors had at least one project cancelled and 59% had projects postponed to 2021. Many of those initiatives remain in limbo. Overall volume was down about 16% in 2020. While there are small signs of confidence increasing as the path forward becomes somewhat clearer, it remains uncertain when or even whether demand will improve this year.
The pandemic created upheaval in multiple areas of Americans' lives last year, including where they live and how they work. The overall volume of moves was down last year due to the complexity created by the virus, but the patterns were both enlightening and harbingers of things to come. While the US population is always mobile in response to economic conditions and preferences, a recent survey by Hire a Helper found that about a quarter of 2020 moves were related to COVID-19, with the most commonly cited reasons being (1) escaping the worst of the pandemic, (2) losing a job or income, and (3) sheltering-in-place with or taking care of family.