The good economic news continues to flow: The current economic expansion, the longest in U.S. history, continues; it’s been a decade since we began our recovery from the 2008 recession.
Of course, most people show little interest in those kinds of statistics if they don’t have jobs themselves. Fortunately, that news is just as good. Our nation’s unemployment rate for September was 3.5%, while the Texas rate was 3.4%.
Jobless rates will always be higher in border areas such as the Rio Grande Valley due to the high rate of new immigrants who don’t — and most can’t — have jobs. Still Cameron County’s unemployment rate in September was just above 5% while Hidalgo County, with more rural areas, was just under 6%, To put things in perspective, just five years ago the jobless rate was 8.3% in Cameron County and 8.8% in Hidalgo County. The more rural Willacy County showed 12.4% and Starr County 13.6% in 2014; currently the rates for both counties are at or near single digits.
Just a couple of decades ago economists considered full employment to be anything under 6%, taking into account people who were between jobs, who voluntarily left their jobs or were temporarily laid off.
Even better, even as we hear complaints about the growing gap between the richest and the poorest among us, wages have been going up, even outpacing the rate of inflation.
And many of those jobs don’t require a college education. Even as many stores are closing, others are expanding, especially major superstores and internet outlets such as Walmart and Amazon. Service industry and construction jobs are rising. That indicates that more people are shopping, dining out and taking vacations.
That’s especially good news as people are beginning to feel the weight of rising college costs — and student debt. Many have begun questioning if that degree is really worth it, or if it will even bring them salaries that will enable them to pay off their student loans.
Of course, higher education will always offer more opportunities, many of them more lucrative, than those available to people whose schooling ends with high school graduation. But as long as the economy continues to expand, opportunities should exist at all levels.
That’s especially true in the Valley, where higher education and white collars are becoming a greater part of our local economy, and culture. Educational opportunities continue to expand, from our young universities and medical school to community and trade colleges that are offering training and certification in many trades.
Increasing our population of skilled and educated residents will, we all hope, attract business looking to hire them. Aerospace companies such as SpaceX and United Launch Alliance already are drawing attention to the area, and local economic development officials are actively searching for other entrepreneurs who might enter our market.
Economies tend to by cyclical, and we never know if and when another downturn will hit us. Sometimes, however, it’s good to stop and see just how far we’ve come, and imagine just how far we can go.