• April 8, 2020

Unemployment skyrockets amid crisis - Odessa American: Local News

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Unemployment skyrockets amid crisis

COVID-19, price of oil hit Permian Basin hard

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Posted: Thursday, March 26, 2020 4:33 pm

Nearly 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week — almost five times the previous record set in 1982 — amid a widespread economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus.

The surge in weekly applications was a stunning reflection of the damage the viral outbreak is inflicting on the economy. Filings for unemployment aid generally reflect the pace of layoffs.

Two weeks ago, 16,176 Texans filed for new unemployment benefits. But one week later the number has jumped to 155,657 out-of-work people filing for unemployment.

In Odessa, unemployment numbers and data on jobs lost during the pandemic have yet to be released.

Willie Taylor, Workforce Solutions Permian Basin CEO, said a large number of the calls coming in are from people filing for unemployment after being laid off.

He said that the workforce has seven call centers and they are overloaded with phone calls. Taylor said the Texas Workforce Commission is trying to add 100 employees to their staff across the state and are working on adding telephone lines.

Taylor said that due to Gov. Greg Abbott’s COVID-19 order that they had to close their offices to the public, but they do have people working in the office who are still trying to match people up with jobs.

Taylor added that people who are trying to file for unemployment should try to call the local number, but that with the high volume of calls, the “system’s on overload.” They are also looking into some extended hours on Saturdays.

Affected workers can also file online at tinyurl.com/tg6dzhb.

Nationally, revenue has collapsed at restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, gyms and airlines. Auto sales are plummeting, and car makers have closed factories. Most such employers face loan payments and other fixed costs, so they’re cutting jobs to save money.

As job losses mount, some economists say the nation’s unemployment rate could approach 13% by May. By comparison, the highest jobless rate during the Great Recession, which ended in 2009, was 10%.

State Rep. Brooks Landgraf said that oil prices did drop due to the virus, but mostly because of the price war between Saudi Arabia and the Russians. “It’s had a big impact on the employment situation a lot of people are facing in Odessa throughout the Permian Basin.”

He said that he’s talked with many small business owners who are having to make tough decisions as well as those who’ve been recently let go or have had their hours cut during this time.

Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Glenn Hegar reported Thursday that the unemployment rate in Texas is currently around 9 percent and Landgraf echoed Hegar’s words saying that, “When we check back in the next week, we should be in the double digits, which is dramatically higher than it was two weeks ago.”

Landgraf said that as of Wednesday, The Texas Workforce Commission received around 50,000 phone calls across the state in contrast to their average of around 13,000 calls in a normal week.

Gov. Greg Abbott requested access to interest-free federal loans to help Texas pay unemployment claims on Thursday, which could provide additional resources for the state to continue to cover unemployment benefits.

The Houston Chronicle detailed that Texas has less than six months of reserves to pay unemployment insurance at recession-level rates, U.S. Department of Labor Data details from the second quarter of 2019, which is the most recent available and that more than 150,000 Texans filed for unemployment benefits last week.

Landgraf said since the coronavirus outbreak, West Texans have been hit with an employment drop and whether it’s a pharmacist or a restaurant owner, Landgraf said that he’s passing ideas to Abbott from those struggling and he thinks that information has been helpful.

“I’m in constant contact with Gov. Abbott and his staff and advising the governor on what we’re seeing out here in Odessa, what we’re seeing in the Permian Basin.”

Landgraf said that while the Texas Legislature is not in session and Texans are in the middle of a declared health emergency, “Governor Abbott is leading the State’s battle against COVID-19 and I believe that he’s showing tremendous leadership.”

“As the legislature, I don’t really have an executive role to play in this, but I have found many ways to serve West Texans as we fight the virus so that’s what I’m spending most of my time these days doing.”

Landgraf said he’s trying to do multiple things from connecting hospital and healthcare workers with resources from the state of Texas whether that is personal protective equipment or testing and collection supplies or just getting answers from state agencies connecting local folks on the front lines with information and resources that could be helpful on the state level.

Landgraf has been active through Facebook and his website where he has listed COVID-19 information so that people can go to one page and have links to multiple local, state and federal resources as well as information about how to donate or sell helpful items to the state of Texas.

Landgraf said he and his team have, “made a concerted effort to keep West Texans updated with transparent information about the spread of the virus and about state resources that are available to help people.”

“In this environment it’s very important to be transparent and let people work with the facts,” he said. “This is a very dire public health situation and it can be overcome, but you know the best way to do that is to let the public have access to all the information that’s available so that everybody can know what their role is. We can take action on facts that are available and I think that’s very important whether you’re a decision maker or just someone who’s trying to get through one day at a time.”

One of the early victories, Landgraf said, was working with Abbott to cancel the Star Exam this year, saying that the last thing that students, teachers and parents need to worry about during a health crisis is standardized testing.

“It’s provided peace of mind for a lot of people and allowed them to focus their energy on other things,” he said. “Those are the types of steps that we’re working to duplicate.”

Landgraf said that he can do a better job when he knows concerns that West Texans may have. He has been reached through phone calls, text messages, emails and messages through Facebook from constituents about their concerns, ideas, recommendations and in a lot of cases he said it has been about their fears that people have about their jobs or their families.

Landgraf said that he is practicing the CDC guidelines for social distancing and cleanliness and that he advises others to do their part as well.

“Tough times don’t last, but tough people do. I really do believe that as a lifelong West Texan that we are uniquely qualified to overcome these challenges if we stay smart, if we stay tough, and if we stay healthy.”

Information on COVID-19 broken down into state, local and other resources can be found on Landgraf’s website at tinyurl.com/sv4ao2r.

Odessa, TX

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