Gloria Salinas, Vice President, Economic Development
Texas had experienced 31 consecutive months of strong job growth until March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced a global recession with shelter-in-place orders that devastated businesses.
Texas’ low unemployment rate of 3.5%, typically hovering just below the national average, climbed to a historic high of 13% in days. Prior to the pandemic, the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) typically received more than eight million unemployment claims in one year, but in March 2020, there were 738,000 unemployment claims in one month.
“We were doing the equivalent of one years’ worth of work in a one-month timeframe,” said TWC Commissioner Aaron Demerson at the in-person DRC Tomorrow Fund Investor Breakfast on Wednesday, September 15. “There were literally millions of phone calls coming in and more $53 billion paid out in unemployment benefits.”
In August 2019, Texas Governor Greg Abbott appointed Demerson as one of a three-member commission to represent employers through the TWC. Commissioner Demerson was reconfirmed in February.
In this role, Commissioner Demerson serves as an advocate for more than 587,000 businesses in Texas and more than 2.6 small businesses. As the first line of resources for all Texas employers, Commissioner Demerson’s office provides a variety of tools, including employment law conferences and an employer hotline, to help businesses start, grow, and thrive in Texas.
Below are a couple of key takeaways from the DRC’s conversation with Commissioner Demerson on Texas workforce priorities and programs:
Getting Texans back to work
The historic number of Texans seeking unemployment assistance due to the pandemic took the Texas Workforce Commission from four call centers to eight call centers.
Additionally, changes were made to legislation that made it easier to process unemployment claims and keep restaurants in business, like waiving work search requirements and allowing alcoholic beverages to-go so restaurants could make sales.
Commissioner Demerson’s goal is to bring economic prosperity to communities and individuals across the state while working with employers to create a business-friendly climate that aims to keep taxes low for employers.
“We’re providing Texans with another day of available work, with another week of available work,” said Commissioner Demerson. “We want to make sure that we’re in position to put our Texans back to work, and the employers are the way that we do that.”
Twenty-eight local workforce solution teams across the state work to make an impact on the one million job openings and thousands of Texans across the state who are still unemployed.
Commissioner Demerson’s primary focus is reducing those numbers.
“I always say the secret sauce in Texas is when you bring together the worlds of workforce, economic development, and education,” he said. “If we bring those together, we’re going to be strong and successful here in our state. And combining that with our elected leadership, and that’s where we make the difference.”
Workforce re-entry initiatives
Commissioner Demerson’s priorities also include ensuring the state continues to offer a talented workforce to companies relocating from out-of-state.
“At the end of the day, what I don’t want to happen is one of our Texas employers to say that we can’t find the talented pipeline in Texas, so we’re going to have to go to a state that has a talented pipeline. We want to make sure that never happens,” he said.
New workforce initiatives at the TWC are focusing on re-entry of veterans into the workforce, providing great job opportunities for interns, programs for job-seekers with disabilities, and transitioning the state’s foster youth into the talent pipeline.
“We can have the best business climate in the world, but if we’re not taking care of business at the local level then we’re not doing our job,” Commissioner Demerson said.
The TWC offers employment one-pagers related to conducting business during the pandemic. For more resources and information, visit the TWC website.
Holmes Murphy is the 2021 Tomorrow Fund Investor Breakfast series sponsor.