HELP WANTED

There’s still hope for job seekers in Dallas.

There was a time when Dallas and Fort Worth seemed happily immune to the economic anemia plaguing the rest of the country. But as the recession has continued, we’ve felt the pinch with the rest of the nation, though not as severely.

World oil prices-still dictated by OPEC-have fallen to $28 to $32 a barrel (ironically, because OPEC mavericks, like Iran, won’t toe OPEC’s $34-a-barrel line). That bodes ill for the production and exploration commitments of locally based drilling, engineering and well-servicing firms that rely on them.

Airlines, the source of local pride and 15,000 area jobs with Braniff and American Airlines alone, suffered a $1 billion loss in 1981, and the slippery status of the national economy during the first half of 1982 has not improved their prospects.

Mortgage interest rates for Dallas/Fort Worth homes have dipped slightly to the 16 to 17 percent range, which is only slightly encouraging, considering one Dallas saving and loan exec’s private comment two years ago that for the average couple to take on any 30-year loan for more than 14 percent is “imprudent.”

Naturally, there are exceptions to these generalities, and Dallas abounds with golden threads among the black (or the red). But almost everyone queried for this report agrees on one point: The deficits derived from the federal budget for 1983 and future years will determine whether economic recovery will begin during the last half of this year, the first half of next year or ever. As an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas puts it: “The bigger the deficit appears over the long run, the higher the interest rates are likely to become or remain. If a compromise budget between the President and Congress is reached [which at this writing has not happened] so that federal deficits in succeeding years are perceived as coming down, then interest rates should be coming down and recovery will be hastened.”

Among the mildly bright spots on the horizon is the prime rate, the interest rate that banks offer to their most creditworthy borrowers. It stood at 16.5 percent at the end of April, a significant drop from the 18 percent rate a year earlier.

Braniff International, which appeared ominously close to folding last December, has received major support from its backers, bankers and 5,500 employees. “We now look forward to summer to pick up,” says spokesman Sam Coates. “We’re getting back to a restoration posture and have moved from survival days to confidence days. People now realize that Bran-iff is a viable organization; there’s a live animal under there.”

American Airlines, employing 9,000 people here and pouring $300 million yearly into the local economy, echoes this confidence, with one reservation: “We’re all selling our product below cost. We need to get back to a fare that will cover costs and return a profit,” says an AA spokesman. But since that hasn’t yet come to pass, American has deferred consideration of a new multimillion-dollar terminal at D/FW airport.

And the fare war goes on. Having bitterly denounced Braniff’s two-for-one ticket sale in February, while following suit, American is now matching Braniff’s current three-for-two special. The big question for Dallas airlines is when will these fair weather flyers be able to afford to become regular customers again.

Thrift institutions have been picking up deposits in the past few months on a steadily increasing basis, according to the Federal Home Loan Bank of Little Rock.

Even so, Dallas attorney Rick Kneipper, who does a lot of legal work for Savings and Loans, sees no real improvement ahead for the rest of this year. “In the S and L business,” he points out, “the profit-and-loss margin is built in well in advance. Even if interest rates got good, some losses are still ratcheted in. The perennial problem is what to do with low-yielding assets.”

The energy industry as it affects Dallas and Texas is not so much down as it is just slowing its move up. “Problems in the industry have been entirely overblown by the media,” criticizes a loan officer of RepublicBank, which employs 45 people just to make oil and gas loans. “The industry as a whole is very sound, and some of the majors – Texaco, for example – are increasing their exploration expenditures next year to stop the decline of their reserves.”

A Dallas oil company executive predicts that prices will begin to creep back up by the end of the summer as Saudi Arabia’s cutback in production starts to be felt in the American market. Then, according to this observer, we’ll see prices settle in at $32 to $33 a barrel, and by late 1983 gradually ease up to $34. At this point normal inventories will be maintained, he says, and the oil industry will enjoy a little stability again.

All the same, oil and gas stocks -name-ly, crude producers – have seen their securities’ values fall 20 percent in 1981 and an additional 28 percent through March this year. This “correction” comes on the tail of 154 percent stock price increases during 1979 and 1980, but they’re the kind of investment doldrums that gives pause to new drilling activity.



TEXAS EMPLOYMENT Commission (TEC) officials maintain that there is unemployment trouble in Dallas/Fort Worth, but it’s low compared to other parts of the country. “If people are willing to take any job, then we’ve got jobs,” says Don Johnstone, TEC labor market analyst. Johnstone supported his statement with a 36-page compacted computer type printout, listing 1,800 employer requests for employees. On the average, each request means one and one-half job openings; therefore, 2,700 Texas Employment Commission-listed jobs in Dallas and adjacent suburbs are available.

Seven months ago, the computer printout was 70 pages, and 5,000 jobs were available. Two years ago, the computer run was 120 pages, and a jobless newcomer to Dallas or Fort Worth had fat pickings for work in the Sunbelt Promised Land. That’s no longer true.

In the waning months of 1981, John-stone and other TEC Dallas staffers fielded job inquiries from 30 states at a volume and geographic spread even John-stone found somewhat surprising: “We always had calls from Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio.. .mostly from the Northeast and Midwest. Now we have California, Oregon, Utah, Georgia and Florida calling us; they never have before.”

The biggest percentage of the callers- more than half-inquire about jobs in manufacturing and construction. Right now, those two areas need workers like a moose needs a hatrack, but Johnstone po-litely informs callers of what is available and offers to mail portions of the daily job printout.

“When they find out about the jobs here, there’s usually one of two reactions: ’I’m damned glad to find a job, any job,’ or ’I’m not going to work for five bucks an hour’,” Johnstone says. “The employers of this area can use people. I just present the callers with the facts and let them make their own decisions. In most cases, though, you can tell they’ve already made the decision to come here, in spite of the fact that very few trade and skilled industrial jobs are now open.”

In fact, on that aforementioned 36-pageprintout, one has to read all the way downto the bottom of page 30 before comingacross jobs in skilled and semiskilled employment categories. A number of theopenings (a half of a page) are for sewingmachine operators; that’s the expectednumber of requests for electronic component assemblers. Displaced auto workersfrom Detroit or steelworkers from Cleveland do not find a lot of job possibilities here.

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