Houston jobless total ballooned 100 times its average in April

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- More than 30 million Americans are now unemployed since the coronavirus forced the shutdown of the U-S economy to stem the spread of the pandemic.

The unemployment numbers released Thursday showed just under 3 million new unemployment claims from across the country, many of those in service and retail sectors that are only now slowly reopening to business in some states.

Harris County leads the state in unemployment claims in the past two months, after the stay-at-home order was announced by the governor.

The director of the University of Houston's Institute for Regional Forecasting at the Bauer College of Business puts the spike in unemployment locally in perspective.

"Pre-COVID, the average unemployment in Houston was about 2,700. In the last reporting for April, it's 276,000. That's more than 10 times what it had been," said Dr. Bill Gilmer. Most of the losses are coming from the service and retail sectors, that were among the first to feel the impact of shutdowns.

By the end of the year, dependent on the degree to which social distancing continues, Gilmer said he expects some 80,000 jobs that existed before to disappear. The upheaval in the oil industry is a part of the unemployment picture as well. "Often when there's a national or global recession, there's an oil recession as well.

"Typically Houston comes out of recessions before the rest of the country," Gilmer said. He doubts that will happen this time because of the enormity of what the pandemic has done to the economy.

"Right now, the virus is behind the wheel of the car. The people in charge are looking in the glove box for the map, and forecasters like myself and the rest of us are in the back seat, along for the ride," he said.

The few brights spots in the employment sector include grocery stores, which are hiring. "That's because restaurants aren't fully open," he said. "As for real estate, the big demand is for warehouses because of the supply chain and where to put stuff."

The hard numbers on local unemployment claims will be released on May 25 by the Texas Workforce Commission.

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