Houston added thousands of jobs in 2015, but growth was hard won as oil crashed

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Houston added 23,200 last year despite the worst oil bust in decades as a healthy national economy coupled with a flurry of petrochemical construction helped buffer the energy capital from deeper pain.

“We’ve still got a ways to go, but so far the two positives just barely outweighed the one negative, and I think we should be grateful,” said Bill Gilmer, the director of the University of Houston’s Institute for Regional Forecasting.

The monthly numbers, which are not seasonally adjusted, fall in line with the near-zero growth rate that economists had been predicting. Many expected strength in the city’s health care, construction, government and petrochemical sectors to help offset job losses in factories and energy office mid-rises that run on oil cash.

The 2015 figures released by the Texas Workforce Commission on Friday will likely be adjusted in March, but the sharp slowdown in job growth marks a dramatic departure for a city that had grown accustomed in recent years to rapid workforce expansion. Houston created 104,700 jobs in 2014, before the energy slump reverberated across the economy.

The 2015 job losses were largely seen in the metro area’s oil extraction and manufacturing sectors, two industries most closely linked to oil and gas prices, which have tumbled substantially in the past year and a half. But the trouble in the oil industry has started to bleed into other sectors as well, with professional and business services beginning to show contraction as well, Gilmer said.

Houston’s unemployment rate in December fell to 4.6 percent, down from 4.9 percent the month prior. Overall, the metro area’s jobless rate inched higher over the year from 4 percent in December 2014.

Texas has been able to weather the oil slump better than Houston, adding 24,900 non-farm jobs in December and bringing the total job creation for the year to 166,900, according to seasonally adjusted data. ending 2015 on a “strong note,” Texas Workforce Commission Chairman Andres Alcantar said in a statement.

“We are pleased employers continue to create opportunities workers,” he said.

But collapsing oil prices have taken their toll on the state’s workforce, as employers cut 33,600 exploration and production jobs last year, a 10.5 percent decline from 2014. Another 41,900 manufacturing jobs landed on the chopping block as well, a 4.7 percent decline from the year prior, according to the data.

Overall, the state’s month-over-month unemployment rate increased from 4.6 percent to 4.7 percent.

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