After months of trending downward following a high of 15.7 percent in April, the unemployment rate in Galveston County is on the rise again.
The county’s unemployment rate had reached 7.9 percent in August but rose for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began back up to 9.4 percent as of September, according to Texas labor market information data provided to The Daily News.
But for those who work closest with people in need during the pandemic, the idea that conditions ever “improved” is something that doesn’t quite fit reality, they said.
“It’s still very bad,” said Liz DeLeon, a caseworker with the M.I. Lewis Social Services Center, which serves the Dickinson, Bacliff and San Leon communities. “I don’t know why people say it’s gotten better because it hasn’t.”
DeLeon had one man come in recently who told her he’d been hired by a chemical company, only to be told the company was holding off on new hires until at least January because of the potential for a rise in coronavirus cases, she said.
“It just sounds ridiculous to me,” DeLeon said.
Conditions have improved since the peak of the pandemic back in April and May, but local experts still aren’t sure what will happen, said Rita Boyer, a grant writer for the Galveston County Food Bank.
In April of 2019, the county saw about 707 unemployment claims filed, Boyer said. That number increased to about 11,244 in April 2020.
County food bank workers are still seeing unemployment claims about 200 percent higher than they were the same time in 2019, Boyer said.
“I don’t know that we’ve yet had one, full month of benefits back to the way that they were before the pandemic began,” she said.
In March, Congress approved an extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits and the Paycheck Protection Program, which helps cover employee salaries, as part of its $2 trillion relief package, the CARES Act, aimed at offsetting economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic, according to The Associated Press.
Those benefits have slowly trickled out, and Congress has yet to agree on another stimulus package.
Across the country, applications for unemployment aid are on the rise, while negotiations over a new stimulus package between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin remain mired in a stalemate, according to The Associated Press.
Funding from the Paycheck Protection Program running out is likely behind the recent uptick in the unemployment rate, said Steven Craig, a professor of economics at the University of Houston.
“I think the Paycheck Protection Program is not given as much credit as it should for being an innovative way to navigate a recession,” Craig said.
Some business owners argue not enough money goes directly to businesses, but the program helps keep people employed and provides opportunities for employees to add value to a business, Craig said.
Craig laid the blame for the lack of a new stimulus package on a lack of cooperation among the different branches of government, combined with profligate debt before the pandemic, he said.
“In pre-COVID times, the government was running a huge deficit that left no margin for error,” he said.
The overall unemployment rate in Texas increased from 7 percent in August to 8.3 percent in September, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. That’s still a decrease from a high of 13.5 percent in April.
Galveston County unemployment rates in 2019 fluctuated between 3.4 percent and 4.4 percent during the same time period of the pandemic, records show.