Unemployment around the country and Texas is rising, but Wharton County is fairing better than nearby counties in the area.
Wharton County is nestled in the middle of the Texas Workforce Commission’s Gulf Coast Region, which is made up of 13 counties.
The Gulf Coast Region as a whole leads the state in unemployment claims, doubling the second largest region. Harris County leads the state with more than 200,000 claims. Wharton County has 958 claims to date, in 11th place out of 13 in the region.
“Things seem to be fairing better (in Wharton County), with roughly half the rate of people that were applying (for benefits as other counties). At least according to preliminary data,” said Ron Borski, a senior data analyst for the Texas Workforce Commission.
The Texas Workforce Commission estimates one out of 22 workers in Wharton County is out of work, while the average for the Gulf Coast region is one in 12.
Wharton County’s heavy ties to agriculture could be one reason the area hasn’t been hit as hard, yet, Borski said. In comparison, Harris and Fort Bend have more restaurants, malls and doctors’ offices and all have been impacted by the coronavirus.
In the second week of March, Wharton County had 30 unemployment claims. A week later, that number skyrocketed to 134 new claims. The number kept climbing until the first week of April with 239 additional claims.
While still high, the latest data had Wharton County with 190 new claims for the third week of April.
April 2020’s monthly rate is not available, yet. However, in March, the unemployment rate for the county is 4.8 percent. The unemployment rate in April last year was 2.8 percent.
While the unemployment number is on the rise since 1990, Wharton County’s peak was 9.2 percent in February 2010, which came on the heels of the housing financial crisis.
Numbers could continue to rise. Last week the price for a barrel of oil went negative for the first time in history, and it could cause havoc in that industry going forward. According to Texas Workforce Commission data, “support activities for oil and gas operations” is the number one reason people in Wharton County are out of work.
“We’re expecting more layoffs to come in the energy sector,” Borski said. “The thing about oil is it takes the mid-30s to the upper-40s to make money and at $10-12 a barrel they can’t.”
While energy is something to be worried about going forward, across the state select businesses began opening back up yesterday as the economy slowly starts to get going again. With numbers lagging weeks to a month behind, it’s too early to know the impact felt from the soft opening.