Modest December job growth caps steady year in Austin labor market


Austin employers closed out 2017 with modest job growth in December, helping hold the regional unemployment rate steady in a tight labor market.

Local employers added about 1,200 jobs during the month, a 0.1 increase that was in line with typical Decembers, according to preliminary data released Friday by the Texas Workforce Commission.

The growing payrolls helped absorb not only the expanding labor force in the region, but also brought more unemployed workers back into jobs, the commission said. That helped hold the metro jobless rate at 2.7 percent during the month.

The commission does not immediately adjust metro-level data for seasonal employment and hiring patterns. The seasonally adjusted jobless rate for Texas was 3.9 percent, up slightly from a record low 3.7 percent in November. The seasonally adjusted national rate in December was 4.1 percent.

In Austin, the month exemplified a solid, if unspectacular, year of job growth – at least by Austin’s standards. Payrolls expanded a healthy 2.9 percent during 2017, adding 30,000 net new jobs during the year, according to the preliminary data.

However, if the 2.9 percent rate holds – and it likely will rise when the commission and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics finalize and benchmark their data in the coming months – it would mark the slowest year of payroll growth since the recession ended in 2009.

That year, local employers slashed payrolls by 2.3 percent. But from 2010 to 2016, metro area payrolls grew an average of 3.9 percent, including four consecutive years of growth faster than 4 percent, according to commission data.

The expansion slowed to 3.3 percent in 2016.

Regardless of where the revised 2017 numbers land, local employers continue to absorb the region’s labor force growth. The 2.7 percent unemployment rate was down from 3.2 percent in December 2016, and continued to hover in ranges not seen since the end of the dot-com boom in 2000.

For Texas as a whole, employers added a seasonally adjusted 306,900 jobs during 2017, rebounding to 2.5 percent growth. The state had seen a sharp slowdown in payroll expansion the prior two years, due to a late-2014 downturn in oil prices.

Economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas expect statewide employers to expand job counts by about 3 percent this year.



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