New U.S. Census survey shows highest COVID impact on Houston workforce yet

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- New estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau found that 22 percent of Houstonians were not working due to COVID-related reasons. This could be either because the individual was sick with COVID themselves or was caring for someone with COVID, such as a child or elderly person.



In the latest Household Pulse Survey from December 29, 2021 to January 10, 2022, approximately 8.7 million people nationwide reported not working. That's the highest number ever reported since the U.S. Census Bureau created the survey in April 2020. The survey is meant to better understand how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the lives of Americans. It also corresponds with the largest spike of COVID-19 cases ever reported in Harris County.



When we narrow down the data to Houston specifically, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 2.4 million people in our area were not working during this time frame. Twenty-two percent of that number said they did not work for COVID-related reasons. This excludes people who are retired and those who do not want to be employed. The breakdown is as follows:

  • 7.9% of people not working (195,108) reported staying home because they were caring for children who were not in school or daycare
  • 2.79% of people not working (68,251) reported staying home because they were carrying for an elderly person
  • 5% of people not working (122,350) reported being concerned about getting or spreading COVID
  • 3.05% of people not working (74,483) reported staying home because they were laid off or furloughed because of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • 2.21% of people not working (54,002) reported staying home because their employer closed business temporarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic
  • 2.97% of people not working (72,493) reported staying home because their employer went out of business permanently due to the COVID-19 pandemic


"COVID is still causing a lot of disruption for the people in the Houston area and across the country. It's keeping people out of work. It's affecting lives on a pretty major degree still," said Jonathan Fagg, data journalist for ABC Owned Television Stations.

Amy Corron is president and CEO of the Wesley Community Center, a nonprofit organization located just north of downtown that helps community members out of crisis and break the cycle of poverty. They employ about 55 people who provide in-person services including teachers, youth workers, case managers, coaches, trainers, and more. She said they had to temporarily close some of their services for the first time during the pandemic because of the Omicron variant's impact.

"I have to say for most of 2020 and 2021, we were very fortunate we didn't have many sick calls. Our staff stayed healthy and on site and really we kept running. We kept operating and helping people. But lately with omicron, things have changed and for the first time, we're having to temporarily close some of our services," said Corron.

She added, "Just yesterday, we had to close one of our child care classrooms because one child and two adults, both vaccinated, tested positive. It can put a burden on the parents who are really relying on that service, so that they can go to work or go back to school. Many of the people we serve, including our parents live paycheck to paycheck. So losing a week or two weeks of work is a big deal to them and can put them over the edge."



Comparing the number of people not working due to COVID to 14 other major cities across the U.S., Houston ranks the 2nd highest and Dallas took the top spot at 25 percent. The other cities include New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington D.C., Miami, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Phoenix, Boston, San Francisco, Riverside, Detroit, and Seattle.



Statewide, the percentage estimates are similar with nine million Texans surveyed reporting not working and 20 percent of them explaining reasons related to COVID. Both our city and state numbers exceed the national average, which the survey estimates at 14 percent.

Fagg said there may be some hope on the horizon, if COVID continues to trend downward for the long run.

"I don't want to be a pessimist. Certainly, there are signs that in some places, the omicron wave has passed. In others, it's passing. But even if you're coming down from a high peak, you're still pretty high up. Who knows what could come next?" he said.

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