Even as workers around the globe were forced to stay home and businesses locked their doors to employees, the unemployment rates in the city, Nacogdoches County, Deep East Texas and the state ticked down in February, though March’s numbers are expected to reflect the virus’ impact.

Unemployment in the city dipped by 0.3% from January to February, even as 96 people joined the workforce, according to data released by the Texas Workforce Commission. Of 14,332 workers within the city, some 540 were looking for jobs, representing an unemployment rate of 3.8%, just 0.3% points more than what was reported in December 2019.

In the county, the unemployment rate dipped down just 0.1% from 3.9 to 3.8%, though the total number of new workers in the job market grew by 233 people. In January, there were 28,012 people in the labor force in Nacogdoches County, which grew to 28,245 by February.

Regionally, the Deep East Texas Workforce Development area’s 12 counties saw unemployment tick down from 5.1% to 4.7%, even as 606 people entered the job market in the area. There were 153,441 people in the region in January, which was up to 154,047 last month.

Statewide, unemployment slipped by .2% from January and February, with 492,475 people out of a 14.2 million-person labor force looking for jobs.

Any gains reported from January to February are expected to be obliterated when March’s numbers are released.

“In the second week of March, when most of the state was business as usual, 16,000 Texans filed for new unemployment benefits,” said Larissa Philpot, the CEO of the Nacogdoches Economic Development Corporation. “By the third week of March, that number increases to 156,000 Texans filing for unemployment. That’s over an 800% increase.”

Data accrued in the coming weeks will help legislators and experts get a better idea of what the economic landscape is in Texas in the wake of the pandemic and fluctuating global oil market, but there are already some indicators of what’s happening, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

”Recent increases in initial claims for unemployment insurance in Texas suggest large job losses in mid-to-late March. Initial claims increased by 4,044 for the week ending March 14 and by 127,452 for the week ending March 21” according to a March 27 statement by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. “Recent reports suggest that potential claimants have overwhelmed the Texas Workforce Commission’s phone lines and website and that this has delayed the number of claims filed.”

The Dallas Fed’s statement forecasted weak job growth in the state, too, in light of the virus and trends towards decreased oil prices.

“We know that the energy sector, which represents a significant share of the state’s economy, is likely to suffer a major decline this year. A good rule of thumb for oil prices and Texas job growth in the current situation is that when oil prices fall below the breakeven price for new drilling (about $49 per barrel) and remain there for some time, state job growth will fall below that of the nation,” according to the statement. “Given energy market conditions, Texas will likely go from pulling up job growth in the nation in 2019 to pushing it down this year (growth was 2.2 percent last year versus 1.4 percent in the U.S.). Based on the historical pattern of Texas job growth relative to the nation and to oil prices, we estimate that state job growth this year will be in the range of 0.5 to 1.0 percentage points below the national average.”

The Houston-based Federal Reserve Bank agreed in a statement issued Tuesday.

“Oil and stock markets have been reeling from the impacts of COVID-19 on world economies and a flood of crude from OPEC,” according to the March 31 statement. “These factors have cast a significant shadow over the outlook for the region.”

Philpot noted that local unemployment statics won’t likely have much effect on what’s happening behind storefronts and in offices around the city and county.

“Our Workforce Commission is quite busy as you would imagine. But when we get those numbers it won’t matter if we’re at 7% or 17% unemployment,” she said. “Our response isn’t going to change. We know those numbers are going to be ugly, but we hope by staying at home, we can quickly restart our local economy.”

Staff writer Josh Edwards contributed to this report.

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