Over 40+ years and thousands of projects, I have examined pandemics, natural disasters, oil market collapses, financial meltdowns, and all manner of mayhem. One enduring lesson is that nothing – and I do mean NOTHING – gets folks worked up as much as football. I should know better, but, alas, I don't!
The economic upheaval of 2020 impacted all corners of Texas. As centers of employment, the largest metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) experienced the bulk of the heavy losses as the state responded to the COVID-19 crisis. About 79.3% of 1.4 million jobs lost between February and April 2020 were concentrated in the state's six largest MSAs. However, recovery is ongoing, with the pace varying depending on industrial composition and other factors. Let's briefly explore the current status of the state's primary population centers and my latest economic projections.
CNBC regularly ranks the top states for business– and the winner was...not Texas! The Lone Star State came in fourth after Virginia, North Carolina, and Utah, all of which compete aggressively and effectively for desirable corporate locations. While fourth is not terrible, it is worse than we normally fare in such listings.
The energy sector remains a key driver of the Texas economy. It dominates state exports; drilling, production, transportation, and processing activity involve substantial investments; and the massive supply chain has been entrenched and expanding for over a century. Although the Texas economy is diverse and multifaceted, oil and gas and related activity from exploration through shipping comprise about 13-14% of overall business activity.
June saw a strong acceleration in the pace of recovery in the job market. Total nonfarm payroll employment in the US rose by 850,000 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, and more than 1.7 million jobs have been gained in the last three months. Since the worst of the decline in April 2020, US employment has risen by 15.6 million. Nonetheless, it remains 6.8 million (4.4%) below the peak in February 2020.
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) recently released results of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) for spring 2021. (See https://tea.texas.gov/sites/default/files/2021-staar-analysis-presentation.pdf for a summary.) The tests cover mathematics and reading for grades 3–8 as well as writing and science for some grades, 8th grade social studies, and high school end-of-course exams in Algebra I, English I, English II, Biology, and US History. The results indicate abysmal outcomes pretty much across the board when compared to 2019, as districts struggled to deal with disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
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.
Calm down! Recent inflation reports have caused alarm and, frankly, overreaction. The overall Consumer Price Index increased again in May, bringing the rate over the last 12 months to 5.0%. It was the largest 12-month increase since a 5.4% rise observed in August 2008, during the midst of the Great Recession. The index for all items less food and energy rose 3.8%, the largest annualized increase since June 1992.
Over 20 years ago, the Texas Legislature passed the Texas Economic Development Act, which allows school districts to offer tax incentives for businesses that invest in their communities. The Act, commonly called "Chapter 313" because of its position in the Texas Tax Code, fundamentally improved the economic development landscape. Chapter 313 has been extended several times but is now set to expire December 31, 2022.
The recent legislative session will not soon be forgotten. The focus was perpetually on anything but initiatives required to move Texas forward. Some high profile measures stalled but will no doubt resurface; others passed.