Economic Summit Views Trends Affecting Families

Trends related to jobs, affordable housing, education and other topics affecting area families were all part of a wide-ranging agenda February 6 at the Economic Summit for Nonprofits held by United Way.

An Uneven Recovery

Emily Ryder, Community Development Analyst with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, shared highlights of the organization’s community outlook survey of community organizations serving low- and moderate-income families in Texas and parts of Louisiana and New Mexico. It indicates that lack of transit options and affordable housing together pose a considerable challenge for families, she said. Housing is especially tight for people with special needs such as returning service members, people with disabilities and older adults.

When it comes to jobs, “the recovery has been really uneven,” Emily said, noting that in 2010 the unemployment rate in the Dallas/Fort Worth area for people with a bachelor’s degree or higher was 4.6 percent, compared to 10.3 percent for those with a high school diploma or less. “Our metro area ranks 87th out of 100 in the Brookings Institution's education gap index,” she said, “meaning the share of jobs that require higher degrees outweighs the share of workers with those degrees.”

The Working Poor

Among families who are below the poverty line, “80 percent of them have a full-time worker who is working year-round,” said Dr. Frances Deviney, Texas KIDS COUNT Director at the Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP). “The problem is that a lot of Texas jobs are low-wage service jobs.”

About 1 out of 4 Tarrant County children (24 percent) lives in poverty, according to Frances. She noted that the federal measure of poverty was developed in the 1960s and based mainly on the percentage of the family budget spent on food. The CPPP believes that the “conservative but realistic” cost for “a safe and healthy lifestyle” today is considerably greater than the federal measure, which says a family of three must make less than $18,123 a year to be considered “officially poor.”

Jobs—For People with the Right Skills

Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County Executive Director Judy McDonald said, “The future of employment is bright, but only if you have the right skills can you be competitive.” She said the average annual number of Tarrant County jobs is projected to increase from 829,000 in 2010 to more than 1 million in 2020. “Manufacturing is coming back,” she said. “Financial and insurance services are also rebounding from the downturn.” Tarrant County is “in the sweet spot in the country” when it comes to the logistics industry, which she defined as “everything that moves from point A to point B and everything in-between.”

Judy said 47 percent of Texas jobs are forecast to be “middle-skill” jobs by 2018. Health sciences is one of the areas that offers jobs at several levels, making it “a perfect field in which to have a career pathway.” She added that the health sciences, construction, manufacturing and “STEM” (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) areas have jobs that pay well and require training but not necessarily a 4-year degree.

A Bright Future

“The economy is really going to start humming in 2013,” said David Berzina, Executive Vice President of Economic Development for the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. He noted that interest rates are expected to stay at 2.75 percent to 3 percent this year. Texas education issues and the potential impact of sequestration on the federal defense budget “will loom large for us,” he said. Badly-needed road construction will pose a challenge to Tarrant County drivers for years to come. Even so, David sees a bright future ahead. “I’m very optimistic about what’s happening in the Metroplex in 2013,” he said, “on both the east side and the west side.”

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