Industries have been reduced as the coronavirus has been spreading. In Texas, unemployment numbers are looking particularly grim despite state government efforts to offer relief.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been accompanied by a historic drop in the stock market and the lowest oil prices in nearly 20 years.
Service and performance businesses are struggling. Movie theaters, concert venues, night clubs and bars have been almost completely shut down, and restaurants have moved to take-out only status.
Retail stores including Macy’s, Sephora, Nordstrom, H&M, DSW, Bath & Body Works, Victoria’s Secret, Ralph Lauren, and Apple have closed all locations temporarily. Half Price Books is offering curbside pickup at many of its locations and has closed in-store browsing.
While many of these businesses are struggling to keep providing employees paychecks, some can’t. More than 16,000 Texans filed for unemployment relief between March 10 and 16, a 38-percent spike over the same time period last year, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. More than 37,000 have applied in March so far, and more layoffs are expected. One expert said that Texas’ unemployment rate may rise to 5 percent.
Texas is seeking to lessen the economic impact of the virus, particularly after Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency last week. New state government initiatives regarding unemployment include:
- Waiving the “waiting week,” the period when unemployment benefits were held until a recipient had accrued two-times their assigned benefit amount. Now recipients can get their benefits faster.
- Recipients no longer have to register with the state job site to prove they are looking for work.
- The self-employed and contract laborers are now able to apply for unemployment assistance, provided they have proof that their unemployment comes as a direct result of the coronavirus.
Unfortunately, these measures will still leave many Texans in hard spots as unemployment does not apply to workers who are furloughed or have had their hours cut. Unemployment pays between $69 and $521 and is only available for six months.
The good news for Texans is that they at least can’t be evicted for now. The Texas Supreme Court halted all evictions through April 19. Tenants can only be removed if they pose an imminent threat. In addition, some Texas counties including Harris and Travis, as well as the city of San Antonio, have placed moratoriums on utility shutdowns.
Student loan interest has been set at zero for two months, and President Donald Trump has ordered all lenders to allow borrowers to not make payments for the same duration. Borrowers will have to contact their lenders directly in order to take advantage of the order as it will not go into place automatically. A further measure of relief to eliminate $10,000 worth of student-loan debt from all borrowers is being debated in congress.
Some businesses in Texas are hiring.
Amazon is seeking to fill over a thousand work-from-home positions after the virus increased demand for delivery services. They’re also looking for nearly 6,000 warehouse and delivery workers in the state.
Many grocery stores are also hiring to deal with crowds seeking supplies as social distancing continues.
Reform Austin will continue to provide updates as they become available.