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Texas Workforce Solutions says more Texans are back to work, but they aren't returning to food service

Unemployment is down in Texas, but workers aren't going back to food service. Texas Workforce Solutions says many have changed course or started over.

BELL COUNTY, Texas — Texas ended its participation in the federal pandemic unemployment benefit program on June 26, 2021. 

Many business owners had hoped people would come back to work as many restaurants and others in the food service industry can't find the help the need.

Thursday, Texas Workforce Solutions told 6 News many workers will not be returning to those jobs. 

The reason is that many people now have higher-paying jobs they won't be leaving.

Texas Workforce Solutions Director of Industry and Education partnerships Charley Ayres said unemployment in Texas has dropped from over 11% to less than 6%.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Texas Unemployment, went from 9.3% in January to 5.9% in August.

Ayres told 6 News people are not going back to food service now, however, because they have better jobs.

"Even during the pandemic the economy flourished," Ayres said. "Sales tax receipts were up. Housing starts were up. The population continued to grow. There has literally become more jobs than there are people."

How does that happen in a pandemic? 

While people may not have been going to restaurants, Ayres said grocery stores actually increased staffing to make use of new curbside delivery services, personal shopping options and other jobs that would require more staff.

"Now all of a sudden the labor force has grown in groceries because when you walk into the grocery store...you see row after row of personal shoppers. They are store employees that may have been grocery clerks but are now personal shoppers. It's extended the employment base."

Even those that did not work for a specific store can make money working with DoorDash, Waitr, Uber Eats or other companies. Many fast food restaurants also deliver now and need drivers to do that as well.

Central Texas is also seeing other high paying jobs. Ayres said people have taken advantage of online resources to gain skills in information technology fields, web design, cyber-security and similar fields. Ayres said IT is actually growing faster than everything else. 

"The fastest growing industry in Central Texas are professional, scientific and technical services. We see a lot of growth in information technology, cyber security, almost anything with web development," Ayres said.

The other fast growing industry continues to be healthcare, though Ayres said it was growing as fast as possible as well.

Food service establishments could still, in theory, get more help as students get out of school, but Ayres said even those students are able to get better-paying technical jobs due to a growing number of certification programs available in public schools. Ayres said the gap between high school and employment is now shorter than ever.

"All of our school districts now, though some of the changes that's been developed the last few years because of the legislature, they offer industry certifications in high schools," Ayres said. "Certified medical assistant, certified nursing aid. The career opportunities as far as training goes in our schools would make most people dizzy...It's not like when you and I were in high school."

While the new opportunities are a positive step for local students, and other Central Texans in need of a job, a highly skilled work force wants to be paid a high wage. Local restaurants and other businesses that need reliable workers will no longer be able to get people to work as easily. Ayres said many such businesses have now significantly raised their pay and those that don't are in for a difficult lesson.

"Every now and then we'll come across someone who will say they are having trouble hiring people. Then we start finding out they are paying $7.25 an hour and it's like, 'We can kind of tell you where your trouble is,'" Ayres said. "You need to get a better feel of what the labor market is."

Ayres said businesses who cannot afford to pay people around $13 or more will need to make up the difference by providing more flexible hours or part time work when people need it. Ayres said the market will eventually even out but that could take another 12 months when workers are plentiful again.

"Right now the ball is in the job-seekers court. But we've had years when the ball was in the employer's court. There's always an ebb and flow."

Learn more about Central Texas Workforce Solutions here.

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