Thank you, Dallas-Fort Worth.
That’s what Texas ought to be saying after the state reported 75,000 jobs added in November. That was enough to finally push total employment over the pre-pandemic peak and give elected leaders a chance to crow again about the Texas miracle.
But Texas wouldn’t have passed the milestone, at least not yet, without D-FW hitting it out of the park and generating 42,700 jobs in November.
How big was that number? In 2019, the year before the pandemic, D-FW added an average of just under 10,000 jobs a month. In 2018, the average was less than 8,000 a month.
D-FW has been expanding employment rapidly since May. And every major sector in North Texas, including hard-hit leisure and hospitality, added jobs from October to November.
That includes construction, which has been lagging despite the huge demand for homes. Statewide, the number of specialty trade contractors in November was 6,800 lower than before the pandemic. But D-FW had 2,600 more specialty contractors than in February 2020.
“We’ve weathered the storm better in D-FW than most anywhere in the country,” said Phil Crone, executive director of the Dallas Builders Association. “It’s been encouraging to see so many people move into this industry and find a great career.”
Crone cited several factors for the additional workers, including solid increases in pay, the chance to work outdoors and risk less exposure to COVID-19, and more people quitting their old jobs. Many training and educational programs are offered, too.
“You can’t go from being a catering manager to a construction manager overnight,” Crone said. “But enough time has passed for people to go back to school, get a new trade and skills, and launch a new career.”
D-FW had just over 3.9 million nonfarm employees in November, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s the highest number ever — and 25,500 more than in February 2020, just before the pandemic.
Most of the nation’s large metros are still trying to recoup the jobs lost in the past two years. Among the 10 most populous metro areas, only D-FW and Phoenix have returned to positive territory, and D-FW added the most workers.
“D-FW is the largest metro to hit that pre-pandemic number so far, and most of the rest of the country has quite a ways to go,” said Jay Denton, chief labor market analyst at ThinkWhy, a Dallas-based software services company. “It’s very impressive to see what D-FW has done.”
D-FW was his firm’s top-ranked labor market for most of 2021 and starts next year at No. 1, too. The ranking is based on multiple factors, including growth in jobs, wages and working age population, along with educational attainment. Then there’s the region’s special sauce: migration.
Dallas and Texas have long been magnets for newcomers, and the pandemic accelerated those trends, especially among high-paid tech workers from expensive coastal cities.
D-FW attracted over 60,000 migrants in the first five quarters of the pandemic, much more than in earlier years, according to a recent report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
Los Angeles, New York and Chicago were the largest contributors to the influx, and all lost significantly more workers to North Texas than in pre-pandemic years.
Austin was another strong destination, attracting fewer people than D-FW but a higher share relative to its population, the report said.
The higher migration brought additional workers, employers and investment, helping fuel the state’s economic growth in 2021 and maybe beyond: “The growing talent pool in Texas may, in turn, become a magnet for relocating firms searching for local talent,” the report said.
Because of net gains from migration and growth in remote working, Denton believes Dallas will emerge from the pandemic stronger than before: “These are changes that are going to last and pay dividends for years to come,” he said.
A labor shortage looms over the recovery, in part because millions left the workforce during the pandemic and millions more are quitting their jobs every month. In November surveys by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, roughly half the Texas executives said they were trying to hire – and over 95% reported difficulty doing so.
Nationwide, the civilian labor force remains 2 million short of pre-pandemic levels. But the workforce in D-FW has been growing, and it had 145,500 more people in November than in February 2020. DFW’s workforce grew over three times faster than the statewide rate, providing more fuel for the economy.
“This is what’s allowing us to create all these jobs,” said Pia Orrenius, senior economist at the Dallas Fed. “That’s the difference-maker that’s going to help us get back.”
The biggest job gains in D-FW have been in transportation and warehousing, which directly benefited from the pandemic. Close behind are professional, scientific and technical services, which include many sought-after technology workers, especially in the Dallas-Plano-Irving side of the metro.
“These are the sectors that are being fed by some of this migration,” Orrenius said.
D-FW has been growing jobs in financial services during the pandemic, helped by big hiring campaigns from major employers such as Fidelity Investments and Charles Schwab. The region’s improving economy has also lifted retailers and staffing companies.
Leisure and hospitality, which includes restaurants, bars and hotels, continues to be the biggest laggard. It’s nearly 20,000 jobs short of its pre-pandemic mark.
Health care and social assistance still have 4,700 fewer workers, which has been one of the surprises of the pandemic economy: that a public health crisis is leading to fewer health care jobs.
One explanation is that many patients are delaying routine care, whether they’re fearful of risking COVID exposure or they don’t want to burden providers during the pandemic.
Orrenius points to another challenge: “There’s healthy demand, but there’s a lot of people quitting,” she said. “They just can’t hire enough.”