Houston economy is actually worse than first reported, data shows

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Houston's economy is worse than what was first reported at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the latest job report. However, there's a new program underway designed to help individuals who were hit hard.

The pandemic hasn't been easy for people like Katherine O'Brien who have been looking for work.

"I was in a shelter," O'Brien recalled. "Then I moved out of the shelter and into my car."

She is no longer living in her car after Workforce Solutions helped her find a new job at One Purpose Enrichment.

"It was hard," O'Brien said. "I actually had no hope. I was like, 'I don't want a job. Nobody will hire me. They don't have any jobs.'"

The employment situation became even more dire on Friday. Originally, reports showed the Houston area gained back 60% of the jobs lost during the pandemic by December. As it turns out, the amount of jobs gained back is not even at 50%.

"Before, it was pretty clear we were past the halfway mark," said Parker Harvey, a Workforce Solutions principal economist. "Now, we may not be."

The state took a deeper dive and discovered it overcounted about 65,000 jobs. Overall, the Houston-area unemployment rate remains about two percentage points higher, sitting at about 8.3% in January, than the rest of the country, despite businesses being open.

"This is something I struggle to understand myself for the last several months," Harvey said. "You would've thought our rate would've matched the U.S. or trend in the same direction."

On Monday, a program will start to help a group impacted during the pandemic. Last year, teen unemployment rose above 30% nationally. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said young people had an even harder time.

Turner said 53% of Hispanics, 45% of Blacks, 48% of Asians and 38% of whites are reportedly struggling.

To help bring the number down, Hire Houston Youth will start to match young people with jobs starting Monday. It's a program that's helped thousands of people ages 16 to 24 land jobs over the summer.

Luis Moreno is one of those individuals who found help through the program.

"I think about it all the time," Moreno said. "Like, 'Man, what if I didn't apply? Where would I be now?' Luckily, everything played out well."

In the past, the program would help through in-person events where people could apply. This year, it'll be virtual. If you're interested, visit the Hire Houston Youth website.

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