Job growth was good last year

More hopeful news for this year.

Jobs and job growth for the region (Source: Greater Houston Parnership)

Boosted by gains in energy, manufacturing and retail trade, the Houston area added 75,800 jobs during 2011, a 3 percent increase over the previous year, the Texas Workforce Commission reported Friday.

“The numbers are impressive,” said Barton Smith, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Houston.

Improvement appeared to begin at the end of the summer and has been broadening over a greater number of sectors.

“The improvement in energy is now spilling over to the rest of the economy,” Smith said.

You may be looking at that 75,800 figure and saying to yourself “Didn’t we just see some better numbers than that for 2011? What gives?” You’re right, we did. The difference is that the numbers reported in that earlier post were for the November 2010 to November 2011 period, while these here are December 2010 to December 2011. What accounts for the difference? Barton Smith suggests the November ’11 numbers were a bit wonky. Here’s another explanation:

Last year the Austin area — and Texas as a whole — showed modest job growth at an annual rate of about 2 percent. Texas added 204,500 jobs last year, while the Austin area added 16,100 jobs over the year .

However, the rate of net job growth was negligible for December and well below the annual rates for Texas and the Austin area.

Alan Miller, executive director of the regional arm for the state workforce commission, said he doubts the survey is capturing Austin’s growth accurately.

“Personally, I think our local economy is growing and adding more jobs than what is reflected,” he said.

For example, he said there have been numerous news reports of software firms expanding or relocating here, but the workforce commission’s report reflects zero job growth in the information sector.

“I can’t explain that,” Miller said.

The data are based on a survey of employers and are updated monthly as well annually. For that reason, the monthly data indicate directions for the economy, but economists tend to favor the annual, corrected numbers.

In other words, it’s also quite likely that the December ’11 numbers are not accurate, and will be significantly revised when the next report comes out in March. So don’t panic.

“If it slowed down, it slowed down from a 100-yard dash to a mile run,” added Patrick Jankowski, vice president of research for the Greater Houston Partnership. “Maybe we’re finding the pace we can sustain over the long run.”

Jankowski also noted that local job growth in 2011 was the sixth strongest of the past 21 years. Houston saw year-over-year growth in all but four sectors: transportation, warehousing and utilities; information (which includes media); arts, entertainment and recreation; and government.

Austin saw government employment shrinkage as well. Unlike some people, I expect more of that this year, though I fervently hope not as much as there was last year. The Trib has more.

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