In 2020 the annual unemployment rate for Travis County sharply increased to 6.3% as a result of the recession triggered by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this increase, in 2020 the City of Austin had the 2nd lowest unemployment rate among the 50 largest cities in the nation. After reaching a high of 6.8% in 2010, just after the end of the Great Recession, the annual unemployment rate for Travis County had steadily declined to 2.6% in 2019. Local unemployment rates continue to be lower than the state and national unemployment rates.
Despite low unemployment, many of the jobs locally available are at the lower end of the income spectrum. According to Every Texan(formerly the Center for Public Policy Priorities), $49,704 is required to make ends meet for a family with one adult and two children in the Austin MSA. An analysis of data provided by the Capital Area Council of Governments estimates that 67% of all jobs created between 2008 and 2018 paid less than that amount.
Since the unemployment rate only measures individuals who are actively seeking employment, it fails to account for individuals who have become discouraged by poor job prospects and stopped searching for work, as well as anyone who chooses not work for pay, such as retirees or family caregivers. The percent employed measures the percent of individuals, within a given category, who are employed.
This graph compares employment participation rates by race and ethnicity, with an additional break-down by gender. In each racial or ethnic group, males participate in the workforce at higher rates than females, with Hispanics showing the greatest disparity. 89% of Hispanic males age 25-64 are employed, while 74% of Hispanic females are employed.
Higher educational attainment is correlated with decreasing rates of unemployment. From 2015 to 2019, the unemployment rate was 9.9% for Travis County residents without a high school diploma compared to 3.5% for Travis County residents with a Bachelor’s degree or higher.
People with disabilities have much higher unemployment rates than people with no disability. In 2019, 12% of people with disabilities in Travis County were unemployed, compared to 3% of people with no disability, however, due to small sample size, estimate for Travis County residents with a disability should be used with caution. Overall, 51% of people with disabilities were employed, compared to 82% of people without a disability.
This table shows the median annual wages for the twenty-five occupations with the largest number of employees in the 5-county Austin Metro Area in 2019.
Those in medium blue are occupations with a median annual wage of less than $25,000. Those in light blue pay a median annual wage of $25,000 to $50,000 per year.
Data Sources: Capital Area Council of Governments, EMSI Data
From 2009 to 2019, 63% (211,939) of the jobs created within the Austin MSA paid less than $50,000 per year.
The Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP) Family Budget Tool estimates the annual wages needed to meet basic living expenses, including housing, child care, transportation, medical expenses, savings, and taxes. Based on analysis of CPPP living wage estimates and job data from the Capital Area Council of Governments:
22% of the jobs created from 2009 to 2019 pay less than the annual wage needed to support a single person living in the Austin MSA ($28,176).
63% of jobs created from 2009-2019 pay less than the annual wage needed to support a family with one adult and two children living in the Austin MSA ($49,704).
The average labor participation rate of residents between the ages of 20 and 64 in the Austin MSA was 79% in 2015. Census tracts with lower than average labor participation rates are indicated in dark orange and brown.
Census tracts with hash marks are those where more than half of all residents are low-income. Some areas in the northern, southern, and eastern parts of the City of Austin have high labor participation rates, but also a high proportion of low-income residents. This suggests that, though working, many are earning low wages.
SOME LOCAL EFFORTS TO IMPROVE THIS INDICATOR
Workforce Solutions Capital Area, the local authority for workforce in Travis County, is leading a new effort to develop the community’s first ever master plan for workforce development, at the request of Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and Austin Mayor Steve Adler. The goal of the effort is to develop a strategic master plan to help low-income workers gain the skills needed for high-demand, high-paying jobs in healthcare, skilled trades, and IT, and better meet the needs of area employers.
An estimated 10% of Travis County youth between the ages of 16 and 24 are not in school and not working. The Austin Opportunity Youth Collaborative is a local effort focused on young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not working or enrolled in school. Workforce Solutions Capital Area serves as the backbone organization for this collaborative effort.
The Austin Two Generation Advisory Council, co-facilitated by United Way for Greater Austin and the Ray Marshall Center, includes partners from across the community who connect high quality early childhood education with training opportunities for low-income parents. The Committee helped launch a pilot program with AISD at the Uphaus Early Childhood Center, and crafted a two-generation vision for Austin.