Wednesday, May 29, 2024 May 29, 2024
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Dallas is Not No. 1

Not even close. Why the city's jobs picture is uglier than you thought.
illustration by Phil Foster

When it comes to job cre-ation, Big D stands for disappointment.

Dallas-Fort Worth is reputed to be one of the country’s great economic drivers, a bona fide jobs machine. Every year, the region seems to lead the nation or be near the top in adding workers. But New York, Los Angeles, Detroit and the like make for easy competition.

Compare DFW with Austin, Houston, San Antonio, and the rest of Texas, and it doesn’t measure up too well. Go a few steps further and separate Dallas-Plano-Irving from Fort Worth-Arlington, and Dallas County from Collin, and it’s almost embarrassing.

Let’s call it like it is: Dallas, the laggard.

Among the state’s 10 largest counties, only Dallas lost private jobs in the past decade, with a net loss of 111,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Next-door, Collin County,—about one-third the size—added 98,000 in the same time. Even with Plano and government hires included, the falloff since 2000 has been so sharp that it’s fair to ask whether Dallas’ best days are behind it.

Maybe a downtown revival, DART light rail, and the growing University of Texas at Dallas can build some mojo, because the city needs something.

From 2000 to 2011, job growth for Dallas-Plano-Irving totaled 4.8 percent. That’s stronger than the United States’ zero growth during a difficult period that included two recessions and 9/11. But Fort Worth and El Paso added jobs roughly twice as fast as the Dallas metro. Austin, Houston, and San Antonio grew three times faster. Even Texas as a whole was in solid double-digits.

Dallas used to be a stalwart. Starting in the mid-1990s, Dallas added at least 60,000 jobs annually for seven consecutive years. But after 2000, that happened just once, during the housing bubble. If those trends aren’t bad enough, consider this blow to the collective ego of private enterprise: Since 2000, local and state government added more jobs in the Dallas metro than every other sector, save for healthcare. 

Of course, taxpayers also provide a good portion of the money that flows to clinics, doctors, and hospitals.

The government surge isn’t coming from Washington, either. Dallas lost 1,300 federal jobs since 2000, while it added almost 57,000 workers in local and state government. That includes teachers, cops, firefighters, road crews and more.

There’s no single explanation for the slowdown in Dallas’ job growth. It’s a diversified economy, not dependent on one industry in the way that Detroit is hitched to autos. Broad diversification is generally an economic advantage, except that Dallas’ jobs breakdown looks a lot like the U.S. model—and that happens to be out of fashion at the moment.

Dallas has roughly the same high ratio of service workers, with a stronger concentration in professional and business services, finance and information. It has a smaller share of government employees than the nation and state, despite recent increases. And it’s thinner in manufacturing, one of the notable improvements during the recovery.

Dallas also has a major hole in its résumé, particularly for a Texas giant: It’s a lightweight on energy. On an absolute basis, oil and gas doesn’t account for a huge share of jobs, even for the entire state. But it has an oversized impact, because salaries are sky-high and royalties pump up monthly revenue for mineral rights owners. All that boosts car sales, retailing, housing, services, and every nook and cranny of the economy.

The Dallas area largely missed out on the big boom created by the natural gas revolution in the Barnett Shale, which gave Fort Worth a great lift. The same technologies have now migrated to South and West Texas for more lucrative oil and “wet” gas, and Dallas is still largely on the outside looking in.

In the 10 years ended September 2011, Dallas County lost 102 jobs in natural resources and mining, based on BLS data. Over the same period, Tarrant County added 4,163 oil and gas workers. Midland County added 6,410. And Houston’s Harris County added 20,603.

Although it hurts to miss such growth, the greater problem is what Dallas has lost since 2000. Thirty-eight thousand jobs are gone in information—the sector with the second-highest average pay. Dallas lost another 56,000 jobs in high-tech manufacturing, including semiconductors, electronics, and computer equipment.

The dot-com bust may be a bad memory in Silicon Valley, but Dallas’ high-tech sector never came close to recovering. In contrast, Austin lost high-tech jobs at less than half the rate, and Apple is building a major facility there.

Dallas has real strengths in professional and business services, and financial activities. Those are well-paid, desirable jobs, and Dallas’ concentration of workers in those sectors is much higher than the nation and state.

The downside is that they move in tandem with national trends. In Dallas, the sectors’ performance has been stronger, but they’ve been on the same roller-coaster ride for a decade. That’s another reason to root for a national comeback: More than any other Texas metro, as the U.S. goes, so goes Dallas.

Mitchell Schnurman is an award-winning business columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.