As with every other aspect of life, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the decision process of high school graduates as they weigh work-or-school choices. May 2020 was the worst of the downturn, with millions of jobs disappearing overnight. Simultaneously, most colleges had shifted at least partially to online classes. Family financial strains due to COVID-19 disruptions were also prevalent. It was something of a perfect storm.
Literally since the pandemic began, I have cautioned that, unlike previous economic dislocations, this one is inextricably linked to a health crisis. Complete recovery can only occur when we reach the point of peaceful coexistence with the virus. Nowhere is this phenomenon more evident than in the job market.
It is no exaggeration to say that I have seen millions of numbers every week since the late 1970s (comments regarding my social life are neither encouraged nor welcomed). On those rare occasions when one startles me, I can't help but mention it.
In early 2020, COVID-19 plunged the economy into freefall, abruptly reversing a historic expansion. Although the sharp declines only persisted for about two months, almost 1.5 million jobs disappeared across Texas. The loss of income and financial security for millions of families and small businesses added to the immeasurable human costs and tragic loss of life associated with the pandemic and measures required to slow its spread.
August job gains for the US were disappointing, with an increase in total nonfarm payroll employment of 235,000 and the unemployment rate down 0.2 percentage point to 5.2%. An increase of this magnitude isn't bad by historical standards and is, in fact, somewhat above the average during the 11 years of expansion prior to the pandemic. However, it's not the strong economic recovery from the COVID downturn we would like to see, and it's a far smaller increase than those observed in recent months.
A year ago, the economy had begun to stabilize after two months of cataclysmic decline due to COVID-19 and the massive response. Almost overnight, millions of jobs disappeared, and an economy in the midst of a record-shattering expansion suddenly went into freefall.
Although the pandemic has spared no one, it has had a disproportionate impact on working women. Over the past year, females have been more likely to leave the workforce due to job losses or conflicts with the added responsibilities surrounding childcare and household sustainability. As the economy recovers, these valuable members of the workforce will be essential. The latest Census numbers make that abundantly clear. Moreover, for many, working is indispensable for financial stability.
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.
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).