Reclaiming Common Sense

Where Houston Heads Depends upon Where It Started

Hurricane Harvey is a monster storm. The rainfall has exceeded none trillion gallons as of the time of the writing of this article. People will be displaced from their homes and jobs for an extended period of time. How can we measure the impacts of this storm over time? The article "Hurricane Harvey Economics" detailed how there is inherent lag in the data reporting. The August Jobs data collection date was nearly two weeks in advance of the storm hitting shore. This means that we will not start seeing the impacts on jobs and unemployment until the release of the September Jobs Report during the first week of October. The data that is released in the jobs report is broken down to Metropolitan and Regional data, It is fortunate for us that the Department of Labor Statistics keeps track of the jobs data for the twelve largest metropolitan areas, including Houston. There are more area that have been impacted by this Hurricane. Hopefully someone else will follow the lead of this article to identify the local data for the other Metropolitan Areas. It is important to not that the August 2017 data will not be released until the end of September.

Houston, as with the Rest of the Country, Has Had an Incomplete Recovery from the Great Recession. Houston was still growing during 2008 while the rest of the country had peaked during July 2007. Houston has not seen a full recovery in the Mining and Logging Industry, The Manufacturing Industry, or the IT industry.  What is going under-reported is that the number of Jobs fell from August of 2015 to August of 2016. How has that data changed during the past year?

Houston had seen a drop August 2015 to August 2016 in Seven of Ten Super Sectors. The only Sectors that had grown year over year were IT, Leisure and Hospitality, and Government. It is probable that the Leisure and Hospitality market will be hot hard by the Hurricane. Construction had been at an all-time peak during August of 2015 so there should be workers available to help rebuild the city.

The Houston Area Unemployment Rate Was down June 2017 versus June 2016. There is data on the metropolitan area available here. Unemployment was falling nationwide during July and should continue to fall during August.

How Many People Live in the Region? There are a number of data sources that are public as to the population of Texas and for some of the major metropolitan areas. The CPS data set have a workforce population estimate - this does not include those who are in institutions - and is for the entire country. There is no population data for states in the CPS or CES data sets.  There is Census data - some areas are only covered with the decennial census and annual estimates. Some areas participate in the Census' American Community Survey that happens every three years - Houston's last ACS was during 2015. The 200 Census data was a downward revision from the 2009 estimate. The net-net is that we do not have an accurate count that is available to the public.

What are the next steps forward? First and foremost help the people and the businesses and schools in the region. Evaluate the water control/flood control system(s) in the area. This is not a "once in a thousand year" event. The number of storms that have hit Texas since 1921 that have dumped serious rain on Texas is provided by Janice Dean of Fox News/Fox Business. We probably cannot engineer pipes big enough to handle 9 to 11 trillion gallons of water during a week of rain. We can implement more low impact development (LID) best practices. We can figure out a better evacuation process. We can trust the models and error on the side of life and safety.

What can we do about the population and the jobs data? We can mandate that all people receiving government aid (Medicare, Medicaid, CHIPs, Welfare, Disability Insurance, et. al) have photo identification linked to a valid Social Security number. This handle the population of the non-workers. We can mandate that all people who receive paychecks have valid identification linked to a valid social security number. Neither of these groups need to have their social security number on the identification cards - they just need to be linked to the system. This will give us a more accurate population count between decennial censuses and the ACS.  The jobs situation can be more accurately measured by revamping the tax collection system. Publish the codes used in the government data sets to the employers. Have them identify the jobs and submit the data when paychecks are gut. They can include data on hours worked, wages paid, and the type of work done. When people become unemployed that data can be transmitted to those creating the unemployment reports.  Better data affords better solution.

My thoughts and prayers go out to those who have needlessly perished in this Hurricane and Tropical Storm. My thoughts and prayers go out to those who have survived and now have to address the life changing implications of their current situation. My thoughts and prayers go out to the students and the elderly, the informed, and the healthy who are impacted by Harvey. This storm is a serious matter. The economic data is just that, data. Lives are lives.

The Hurricane Season may be  just getting started. It runs through October, and during 2005 we had storms through December when we ran out of official names.

Stay Safe.