3-minute read

Good afternoon WFS friends and allies,

Eight plus months into the pandemic, Austin area unemployment is still 2x pre-COVID levels. After September’s unemployment tally rose after five months of gains, TWC today reported Austin MSA’s October unemployment dropped to 5.1%, representing 63,682 jobless residents. 

To address the unemployment crisis, we continue to forge ahead with innovative efforts like RE:WorkNOW to prepare Austin’s workforce out of the pandemic.

What’s happening in the Austin metro job market:

  • Outreach and enrollment continue for Phase 1 of the RE:WorkNOW initiative. We are reaching out to tens of thousands of jobless Travis County residents via earned media, radio, email, digital media, and video to help them rapidly link to a diverse range of training programs. 
  • Austin companies are still hiring, although less than a year ago (more below).
  • With a talent shortage in IT and healthcare — and continued growth projected in skilled trades and advanced manufacturing — we have open jobs if we can encourage the unemployed and underemployed to enroll in rapid training. You can help by personally advertising the RE:WorkNOW opportunity and Austin Community College’s 50% off rapid training programs to your constituents, friends, and neighbors.
  • TWC’s latest report showed improvement in the unemployment rate month-over-month, although a lagging indicator. The surge in COVID-19 infections and Austin’s move back to Stage 4 restrictions will likely weigh on November’s labor market picture. 
  • On Thursday, Gov. Abbott said he would not order another statewide shutdown. At the same time, Travis County bars will remain closed without immediate plans to reopen, as the moving average of COVID-19-related hospital admissions and cases has doubled since early October.
  • Last week,we partnered with Workforce Solutions Rural Capital Area and Texas Workforce Commissioner Aaron Demerson for a special conversation with Tesla. We explored how Tesla’s upcoming Austin Gigafactory will help enhance the Central Texas manufacturing industry and how we can create upskilling opportunities and prepare our local workforce for these high-demand roles.
  • Rohan Patel, senior director of public policy and business development atTesla, noted that60-70% of the jobs Tesla will fill in Austin are manufacturing production associates and other entry-level positions. These jobs need only “a high school degree and work ethic” with a willingness to learn. Entry-level positions may not even require a high school degree.
  • Another one of Elon Musk’s companies is eyeing Austin, and it’s boasting of being bullish on building a futuristic tunnel in the city.

Also, thanks to all who helped promote the Joint Veteran and Family Career Week Virtual Hiring Expo on Thursday,an initiative of the Mayor’s Challenge to Prevent Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans, and their Families. We partnered with the City of Austin and Austin Chamber, joining with local institutes of higher education and local employers (like Tesla, RigUp, and Indeed) to connect service members, veterans, and their families to careers, internships, and opportunities for training and education. We were honored to take part and continue our own awarded-winning commitment to hire and retain our Nation’s heroes.

Below, find the latest unemployment data for Texas, learn how we helped keep an Austin business’ doors open, and catch up on the latest policy changes.

In partnership, Tamara.


Austin unemployment rate drops to 5.1% in October 2020, as job postings continue to lag behind 2019 levels

Good news: According to the latest figures released by TWC on 11/20, the unemployment rate for Texas (6.7%) improved,although slightly above the national unemployment rate (6.6%).

  • October unemployment in the Capital Area/Travis Co decreased from 6.6% in September to 5.2% in October, representing 38,844 jobless residents.
  • The overall September Austin-Round Rock MSA rate is slightly lower at 5.1% or 63,682 jobless residents.
  • Of note: Self-employed, independent, gig, and contract workers typically ineligible for regular state unemployment (e.g., PUA claimants) are not counted in the monthly unemployment rates.
  • Read more in our Newsroom.

What they’re saying:

  • Dr. Richard Rhodes, Chancellor of Austin Community College District: “When COVID-19 hit our region, our community took a hit. Thousands of people lost their jobs; many others were furloughed. Our goal is to help get Central Texans back to work.
    • Together, with RE:WorkNOW, ACC can help link students to employers who are hiring.”
  • Melanie Flowers, Board Chair at Workforce Solutions Capital Area: “Thousands of our friends and family are still seeking work to create stability in their lives. As people continue to struggle with pandemic-related unemployment, we continue to engage them to offer support with job searching, training, securing employment, providing safe care for children, and much more.”

Austin/Travis County by the numbers:

Non-traditional claimants typically ineligible for unemployment benefits are represented in the below data.

  • New unemployment claims decreased from September, with 5,354 (-2,208)approved claims in October 2020.
  • Jobs are still being posted, but fewer are available than a year ago:
    • 25,159 new job ads were posted in Austin MSA in October 2020 (-359 from October 2019).
    • Job postings decreased -19.8% when comparing the second week of November with pre-COVID January 2020.
    • 10,731 new job ads were posted in Austin MSA from November 1-15, 2020 (-1,652 compared to the same period in 2019).
  • Job openings are wide-ranging:
  • In the first half of November, the region’s top hiring occupation groups were in IT (1,635), management (1,222), sales and related (1,164) healthcare practitioners and technical (996), and office and admin support (975).
  • Top hiring companies were Hospital Corporation of America (170), University of Texas (122), Ascension Health (119), Ernst & Young (116), and IBM (105). 
  • Top occupations in the most in-demand sectors, targeted in Austin’s Community Workforce Plan, were registered nurses, software developers, heavy and tractor trailer drivers, LVN’s, andnursing assistants.
  • 9 job fairs held by WFS in September attended by 979 job seekers and 259 employers promoting1,412 real-time job openings.


Catch up quick: COVID-19 workforce policy and funding changes

Here are the latest scheduled effective dates and why they matter:

Unemployment benefits policy: I anticipate these policy changes will dramatically increase the number of unemployed workers seeking their job matching and training services.

  • TWC reinstated required work searches on November 1, which means no unemployment benefits unless you do at least three things each week that could lead to a job, and document it.
    • TWC previously suspended this requirement in March due to the pandemic.
  • Under current law, enhanced and expanded federal unemployment benefits for self-employed and gig economy workers (e.g., PUA, PEUC) will end on December 31.
  • There has been no sign from Congress or the White House that negotiations on further federal stimulus have re-started. 

Child care policy: With these changes, we began outreaching to parents on our waitlist and contacted 1,175 families to enroll more children in child care.

  • TWC reinstated work requirements for parents receiving child care assistance. Parents must be working or in school to receive care. 
    • Parents in the program can request to put their financial assistance on a temporary hold and will not lose their eligibility.
  • Travis County, through Workforce Solutions Capital Area, began requesting applications for stabilization grants ($440,000 available) for child care providers, with a focus on those in Travis County but outside Austin.
    • Stabilization grants help defray ongoing fixed costs like rent and insurance, so closed providers can eventually reopen.
    • WFS staff is reviewing eligibility and will make payments after the Dec 25 deadline. 
  • The 25% Enhanced Reimbursement Rate funded by TWC will endDecember 2020, which helped all providers with an active referral that remained open and the children they served.
    • Enhanced Reimbursement Rate payments are an incentive TWC began in March to encourage providers to stay open and address increased operational costs to serve essential workers.
    • WFS has issued over $3.1M in payments to 277 providers since March.
    • WFS currently has 1,186 families with 1,733 children on our waitlist (1,087 fewer children last month).


How Austin Creative Reuse kept their center open and staff working during the pandemic with layoff aversion funding

When the COVID-19 pandemic swept into Austin in spring 2020, local businesses, small and large, were impacted. Many businesses had to close their doors; others sought support to continue operations and keep their people working. One of these businesses was Austin Creative Reuse (ACR), a nonprofit whose mission is to foster conservation and reuse through creativity, education, and community building.

The backstory: Just as the pandemic hit, ACR expanded into a new location in the Windsor Park neighborhood north of Mueller. 

  • Most of ACR’s employees are retail clerks, an occupation with limited work-from-home options. 
    • The Board of Directors committed to paying all staff for the hours they would have worked during the closure with the organization’s emergency funds, but those funds were quickly depleted.
  • ACR applied for and received Layoff Aversion funding through Workforce Solutions Capital Area, which allowed them to “make the investments necessary to safely operate a small retail business in the time of COVID.”
  • ACR is now celebrating its growing workforce. ACR hired their 19th staff member the week of October 19, up from 14, when they applied for the Layoff Aversion Program in May.

What they’re saying: Jenn Evans, CEO of ACR:“ACR would like to extend our deepest thanks to everyone at Workforce Solutions Capital Area. This funding was instrumental in allowing us to keep our entire staff working during the five months that our center was closed to the public.”

  • “Workforce Solutions staff – and Amber Warne, in particular – were deeply supportive in helping ACR to plan our reopening needs and use the Layoff Aversion funds wisely and responsively to the ever-changing COVID environment.”

Go deeper: Read more in our Newsroom and learn how we can help businesses or CBOs facing a layoff or closure.

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