HARLINGEN — Cameron and Hidalgo counties lost about 41,800 jobs last month, driving their unemployment rates to about 17 percent — the highest in decades.
While Cameron County lost about 17,000 jobs, Hidalgo County lost about 24,800 jobs in April, Pat Hobbs, executive director of Cameron Workforce Solutions, said Wednesday.
But Hidalgo Workforce Solutions’ numbers were higher for Hidalgo’s job losses. Mike Gonzalez, spokesman for Hidalgo Workforce Solutions, stated Hidalgo County lost 52,292 jobs last month.
Meanwhile, Willacy County lost about 1,058 jobs, driving its unemployment rate to 17.4 percent while Starr County lost 4,025 jobs, rocketing its jobless rate to 24.3 percent in April, Hidalgo Workforce Solutions reported.
“ I’ve never seen it this high,” Hobbs, who has served 11 years as Cameron Workforce Solution’s executive director, said. “Even when it was bad, the unemployment was at 12 percent.”
The job losses stem from federal guidelines and state and local orders mandating businesses close to limit exposure to the coronavirus.
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott began allowing businesses to reopen at limited customer capacity May 1.
“ We expect things to start turning around now that they let the businesses open,” Hobbs said.
In Harlingen, Mayor Chris Boswell is counting on businesses to put many of their employees back on the payroll.
“ As businesses start opening up, people are going to get back to work so I think we’ll see an uptick but how much is unknown at this time,” Raudel Garza, chief executive officer of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, said.
In the Valley, the leisure and hospitality industry, which includes restaurants and hotels, lost about 21,100 jobs in Cameron and Hidalgo counties, accounting for most of the area’s job losses, the report showed.
“ The restaurants are coming back up and they have a large portion of the workforce,” Hobbs said.
In Harlingen, managers at restaurants such as La Playa Mexican Café, Golden Corral and El Pato Mexican Food have said they have retained all or nearly all of their employees.
“ There’s no sugar-coating but more people are going back to work,” Boswell said, noting the Workforce Solutions’ report reflects April job numbers.
“ We’ve added some people back into the workforce,” he said. “We’re hopeful, with the reopening of businesses, more restaurants will bring employees back, more people will travel to fill our hotels and more people will go back to the doctor and hospitals. It’s going to take a little while for it to come back.”
Meanwhile, the EDC has launched a $1 million program offering zero-interest loans of up to $10,000 to help small businesses recover from the month-long shutdown.
“ We’re trying to help small businesses stay in business,” Boswell said.
Medical complex jobs
In the Valley, the healthcare and private education, government and retail sector accounts for about 80 percent of jobs, Hobbs said.
“ As soon as those are all back in business, 80 percent of our economy will be coming back,” he said.
At Workforce Solutions, officials are counting on the region’s growing medical complex to help bolster the economy.
“ The need for quality healthcare is the driving force for continued job growth and creating a talent pipeline of middle-skilled healthcare professionals,” the report stated.
In Harlingen, the city’s growing medical complex employs about 4,800 workers, Boswell said.
“ Twenty-five percent or more of the workforce in our city is made up of healthcare workers,” he said.
Some jobs lost
In the Valley and across the country, many jobs, such as traditional office jobs, are expected to be eliminated as the nation enters a post-pandemic economy.
“ There are some jobs that are not going to come back,” Hobbs said. “We’ve been working from home for two months. Some industries see, ‘I don’t need an office. I don’t need brick and mortar.’”