Thursday, December 22, 2016


By Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje
San Antonio Express

A survey that examined job growth and weekly wages over the past year in 343 of the largest counties across the nation found that two in South Texas lag far behind: Cameron and Webb counties.

Cameron County, whose biggest city is Brownsville, ranked 341st overall when it comes to both measures. Over the past year, the county saw only 0.6 percent job growth, for a ranking of 295. Weekly wages were $592, putting it second from the bottom. Only Mahoning County, Ohio, was lower.

Webb County, which includes Laredo, didn’t fare much better, with an overall ranking of 339. Its job growth was 0.8 percent, or 283rd on the list. Weekly wages were $650, a rank in that category of 340.

The study was put out by GetRichSlowly, a California-based company that provides financial investing advice and other information. It used data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to come up with the rankings, comparing both job growth over the past year and absolute wage levels for the 343 counties.

“If you look at most border counties, you’ll find these kinds of numbers.”
Jason Hilts, president and CEO of the Brownsville Economic Development Council
Jason Hilts, president and CEO of the Brownsville Economic Development Council, said he “wasn’t surprised” that Cameron County fared so poorly, given the low wage and education levels in much of the border region.

“We’ve been trying to address these issues for many years,” he said. “If you look at most border counties, you’ll find these kinds of numbers. Unfortunately, the border has always lagged behind.”

But all is not bleak, Hilts said, pointing to various developments in store for the Brownsville area in the near future, including the SpaceX South Texas Launch Site, the private spaceport program conceived by innovator Elon Musk to be built at Boca Chica Village. It stands to bring hundreds of jobs to the area, Hilts said.

Similarly, at the Port of Brownsville, three liquid natural gas projects linked to Eagle Ford hydraulic fracturing should bring “billions” more in investment and high-paying construction jobs, he added. The city is working on recruiting other industries that would provide residents a living wage.

“There’s a lot of movement, but it takes time to change things,” he said. “What’s happening may not help people today, but the goal is to help people’s children.”

Federico Schaffer, director of the Texas Center for Border Economic and Enterprise Development at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, pointed to other numbers that paint a far rosier picture of conditions in Webb County.

“Since the recession, our unemployment rate has been steadily reducing,” he said. “In 2010, it was 8.2 percent; now it’s 4.7 percent, less than the national rate of 5 percent. That’s quite an improvement in five years.”

His own data showed that in recent years, more jobs were created in Laredo than there were people entering the workforce.

“These are jobs that are probably not so well-paid, and we do have a high percentage of poverty, but Laredo is the most important inland port between Mexico and the U.S.,” he said. “This is the third-most-important custom district, dollar-wise, in the nation. Of all trade that passes between Mexico and the U.S., 51 percent crosses through this district, and that creates jobs.”

Bexar County fared about middling in the rankings, No. 151 overall. The 2.1 percent job growth over the past year and average weekly earnings of $934 both ranked at 158.

Richard Perez, president and CEO of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, said San Antonio “historically has been slow and steady. We’re not at the top of the pack, but we’re not at the low end either. We’re in the middle, and while you want to be more robust — bigger and better — I can say as someone who employs 26 people at the chamber, and who has helped manage a small, family-owned business, that’s pretty darn good.”

The highest-ranking county in Texas was Collin County, part of the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington Metroplex, which got an overall score of 15 — just two points better than Dallas County. While Harris County, which has Houston as its county seat, scored worse overall than Bexar County — 188 — its weekly wages were higher, at $1,381. But Harris County lost jobs over the year, at a rate of 1.2 percent, dragging down its score.

Bexar County’s fairly decent job and wage scores pale in comparison to that of San Francisco, California, which came out on top in the rankings. There, the average weekly wage was $2,054, and job growth was 4.8 percent.

The top five counties in the nation had average weekly earnings of $2,000, or roughly $100,000 per year.


BobbyWC said...

There is no question there is poverty. But the cost of living in Brownsville is significanly less than these other cities. The only valid studies adjust for cost of living, so this study is only good for headlines, not accuracy.

Bobby WC

Anonymous said...

Surprise, surprise, the two most backward counties have had generations of corrupt Mexican government.