By SHERYL JEAN, Dallaw News
Texas once again is leading the nation in job growth — at least through January — and economists say trends for the rest of the year look promising.
The state added 33,900 jobs in January and 322,400 for the 12 months ending in January, ranking No. 1 for both periods, according to information released Monday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“My expectation is we continue to have strong job growth in Texas,” said Robert A. Dye, chief economist for Dallas-based Comerica Bank. “The Texas economy is running on all cylinders. Expectations of a better year for the U.S. economy [after a choppy first quarter], an improving global economy and higher energy prices [are] a very potent combination for Texas.”
“Although employment growth in many other states decelerated during the past several months, Texas’ job creation accelerated to new heights,” said Jason Frederick, a senior economist for BBVA Compass Bank. Part of the reason for the divergence is that Texas didn’t experience the severity of winter weather in January that other states did.
In January, more states lost jobs (27 states plus Washington, D.C.) than gained jobs (23 states), according to the BLS data. California was the biggest loser (31,500 jobs), followed by Illinois (27,600) and Kentucky (18,500). Kentucky also saw a 1 percent drop in employment, the largest of the states.
After Texas, Ohio ranked second in jobs added in January (16,700). Arizona was third, with 8,900 jobs. Vermont had the largest percentage gain in jobs (1 percent).
For the 12 months ending Jan. 31, 46 states and Washington, D.C., added jobs and four states lost jobs, according to the BLS data. After Texas, California was second (319,600 jobs) and Florida was third (192,800).
In terms of percentage gain in employment for the last 12 months, Texas ranked No. 3 (2.9 percent). Nevada (3.4 percent) was first and North Dakota (3.3 percent) was second.
Texas’ unemployment rate fell from 6 percent in December to 5.7 percent in January. That was well below the U.S. jobless rate of 6.6 percent in January. (The BLS has already released national job data for February, and the U.S. unemployment rate inched back up to 6.7 percent.)
Rhode Island had the highest unemployment rate, with 9.2 percent. North Dakota had the lowest rate, 2.6 percent.
Unemployment rates fell in 43 states and Washington, D.C., from December, according to BLS data. The rate rose in Iowa and remained the same in six states.
Rates declined in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., from a year earlier.
Texas’ recent job growth occurred across many industries, but it has been largely service-based.
Although trade, transportation and utilities (7,600 jobs) and education and health services (7,100) drove most of January’s growth in Texas, the story is really about construction. Construction was third, with 6,200 new jobs, ranking No. 5 nationally, according to the Associated General Contractors of America. For the 12 months through January, Texas was No. 3 nationally with 26,000 new construction jobs.
The construction job growth in so many states is “a sign that demand appears to be recovering” despite harsh weather, said Ken Simonson, chief economist for the trade group.
Texas continues to attract businesses and people from other states, which is spurring home and commercial building, Dye said. The state’s total construction employment in January reached its highest level since February 2009.
While housing has driven much of the construction in Texas in recent years, BBVA’s Frederick expects commercial real estate activity to contribute more to job growth this year.
Frederick said it’s no coincidence that the Austin, Dallas and Houston areas are leading the state’s job growth as the thriving technology and energy industries need more office space. Combined, the Austin, Dallas and Houston metropolitan areas accounted for more than two-thirds of all of Texas’ new jobs in the past year, he said.
“For the rest of 2014, we shouldn’t be surprised to see a resurgence of ‘Gone to Texas’ signs tacked to front doors across the nation,” Frederick said.