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Things Are Tough All Over : While the U.S. Jobless Rate Dips a Bit, the Improvement Is Not Evenly Spread Out

August 08, 1992|LIANNE HART in Houston

The Labor Department reported Friday that the nation's unemployment rate dipped slightly to 7.7% in July. Although the jobless data indicates a slight improvement in the sluggish economy, the recovery is uneven throughout the country.

To assess the strength of the job market in various regions, Times staff writers spoke with economists, government officials, company officials and the unemployed workers. Here's what they found:


Depressed energy prices and the national recession have combined to put a drag on the region's economy.

While much of the region outperformed the rest of the nation during the first half of the year, job growth slowed in the most recent quarter. "We're pretty flat now," says Keith Phillips, chief economist at the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas."

Unemployment in Texas has crept up to 7.4%. In the past year, the state's energy and construction businesses have been heavily hit with losses, while the service industry, health care and state government have added jobs. The net result has been a statewide gain of 75,000 jobs, statistically insignificant in a 8.7-million-member work force.

"It's a sluggish situation," says Vic Santangelo of the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Dallas. "The best you can say about it is it's better than the rest of the nation."

Houston has lost about 2,500 jobs in the past year. Unemployment stands at 7.9%, compared to 5.3% at the same time last year. Unlike earlier downturns, layoffs in Houston have hit white-collar workers with a vengeance, with pink slips distributed over the past year to middle managers at companies such as Exxon, Houston Light & Power and Texas Instruments.

The Dallas-Ft. Worth area isn't faring much better. General Dynamics, already down 10,000 jobs, announced last week the elimination of 5,800 more jobs by 1994. The area is bracing for more bad news as the defense industry continues to downsize.

Hardest hit is Texas' traditional economic base, the energy industry. As cost-conscious oil companies move operations overseas, the domestic drill count has dropped to a 50-year low, creating losses of 500 to 1,000 jobs a month.

"It's a pretty tough industry these days," says Richard Ghiselin, spokesman for Schlumberger Well Services, which has laid off nearly 20% of its work force. "Unless a person is willing to go overseas, the prospects of getting a job in this industry are rough."

"The national economy needs to gain enough momentum to spill over here and rev us up," says Bill Gilmer, senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank in Houston.

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