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Gov. Greg Abbott followed 18 other Republican governors on Monday by rejecting federal pandemic unemployment benefits.
In a press release, a tweet and an appearance on Fox News, Abbott justified the decision by citing two figures that he argued illustrate the state’s post-pandemic economic recovery. First, there are more job vacancies than people receiving unemployment benefits; and second, the number of job openings in the state today is significantly higher than pre-pandemic levels.
"I had the Texas Workforce Commission dig into the numbers and provide me with the numbers, and here they are," Abbott told Fox News host Bill Hemmer on Tuesday. "We now have more job openings than we do people who are on unemployment. We have 60% more job openings today than we did the month before the pandemic hit the state of Texas."
Abbott’s decision, which goes into effect June 26, will cut $300 weekly payments to unemployed Texans by ending the state’s participation in the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program. Abbott also ended the state’s participation in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provided self-employed people with aid throughout the pandemic.
As of March, the unemployment rate in Texas stood at 6.9%, or nearly 970,000 people, which is down from the pandemic high of 13% in April 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Texas Workforce Commission reports that 1,029,890 million Texans are currently receiving unemployment payments; about 31% of them are receiving aid as self-employed workers.
The state’s withdrawal from the federal benefits programs comes at the urging of business leaders, who said that 60% of Texas businesses were hiring for at least one position and blamed their hiring struggles on the $300 weekly aid payments. But are there more job vacancies in the state than unemployed people, as Abbott claims? And how does the number of job openings today compare to pre-pandemic levels?
The Texas Workforce Commission, which provided Abbott with a job vacancy estimate at his request, explained how they determined this figure.
According to a spokesperson, the state workforce agency found that a combined 850,000 jobs had been posted to the agency’s two state-run job boards — WorkinTexas.com and MyTXCareer.com. Then, using third-party software, the agency combined this total with the number of Texas job listings posted to private job boards like Indeed and Monster.com.
"The exact point of the software is to determine the number of jobs without double counting, since most jobs are posted on multiple sites," said Workforce Commission spokesperson James Bernsen.
According to this methodology, there were about 1,022,000 job postings in Texas as of May 11, which is slightly less than the total number of people currently receiving unemployment benefits.
But the job vacancy total comes with one caveat, Bernsen said. Because a single job posting may have more than one job vacancy associated with it, the total number may be "a bit deceptive," he said. However, the agency didn’t provide an estimate for how this caveat may affect the 1,022,000 total.
Turning to Abbott’s second claim — that the state has 60% more job openings today than in February 2020 — we look again at data from the Texas Workforce Commission.
Using the same methodology that determined the present number of job openings, the Texas Workforce Commission found that about 645,000 jobs were available across the state’s job boards and private job boards in February 2020. That’s a 58.4% increase between the February 2020 number and the 1,022,000 job vacancies recorded on May 11.
Critics argue that low wages are to blame for employers' hiring difficulties rather than the $300 weekly unemployment payments.
Rick Levy, president of the Texas AFL-CIO, a pro-labor group, has called Abbott’s analysis too simplistic, and says that these computer-generated statistics ignore barriers to employment people continue to face.
"A bunch of business people said they wanted this to happen, and that’s why this is happening," Levy said. "And now [the governor’s office is] going back and backfilling their reason with this computerized approach."
Abbott said on Fox News that he directed the Workforce Commission to "dig into the numbers and provide me with" job market data.
We asked for a copy of this correspondence from the governor’s office but have not received a response. We also asked the Workforce Commission for a copy of the correspondence. An agency official instructed us to file a request under the Texas Public Information Act. That request has not yet been fulfilled.
"Labor is a commodity, and if there is a shortage of labor, just like when there is a shortage of anything else, then you raise the price on that commodity," Levy said. "There is a shortage because people are unwilling to do it and wages today are historically low. The profits in this economy have been sucked up by the top 1%."
Abbott said that there are now more job openings in the state than the number of people receiving unemployment benefits, and that the number of job openings today is 60% higher than the number recorded in the month before the pandemic.
Based on Texas Workforce Commission methodology, there are 1,022,000 job postings on state-run and privately run job boards, some of which represent more than one job. That should total slightly more than the 1,029,890 Texans on unemployment as of the most recent data.
Furthermore, that 1,022,000 number is indeed about 60% higher than the 645,000 job openings the Texas Workforce Commission counted in February 2020.
We rate this claim True.
Tweet, @GregAbbott_TX, May 18
Office of the Texas Governor, Governor Abbott Announces End to Federal Pandemic-Related Unemployment Benefits, May 17, 2021
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Local Area Unemployment Statistics: Texas, accessed May 19, 2021
Texas Workforce Commission, Unemployment claims numbers, accessed May 19, 2021
Austin American-Statesman, Abbott cancels federal pandemic assistance for unemployed Texans, May 17, 2021
Emails with James Bernsen, Texas Workforce Commission spokesperson, May 18-20, 2021
Phone interview with Rick Levy, President of Texas AFL-CIO, May 20, 2021
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