Houston job market labors with energy cuts

Houston area unemployment is up .7 percent from 4.8 percent in June 2015 to 5.5 percent in June 2016.

The skyline surrounding The Rice Lofts stands still the first Monday of September. At street level, the sound of 210-degree pressured water fills the air near Texas and Main Streets, blasting grit from the bustling patio surrounding the historic downtown building. 

Avoiding the super-heated mist, 60-year-old retired bus driver, Mike Jones, greets Rice Loft’s residents wearing a crisp suit and warm smile. 

“I’m blessed to have a job,” Jones said. “Blessed to be able to work.”

Since 1894, millions of Americans have used Labor Day to enjoy the last unofficial day of summer. Yet not everyone gets the luxury of a day off. 

Jones returned to the workforce after a half-decade hiatus. During Jones’ retirement, he wasn’t factored into Houston’s unemployment rate, because he wasn’t actively searching for a job. 

“I just got tired of sitting around at home,” Jones said. “(I) wanted to do something, and I enjoy working with people. I’m a people person.”

Not everyone is as fortunate as Jones. Houston area unemployment is up .7 percent from 4.8 percent in June 2015 to 5.5 percent in June 2016. 

“Jobs are so scarce now,” Jones said. “I mean, there’s a lot of people who don’t want to work. There’s a lot of people that need to work that want to work (but) can’t find work.”

To Jones, job hunting and job sustainment revolves around work ethic. The man who hired him, Chris Gravel, is manning the pressure washing machine, combing the patio in water-soaked boots and wiping sweat from his brow. 

“(Some) holidays are just days,” said Gravel, a retired Army veteran. 

Gravel owns businesses surrounding the hotel industry, including It’s In The Details Pressure Washing, charged with sanitizing Rice Loft’s patio. 

Businesses like Gravel’s are shielded from declining crude oil imports and exports possibly contributing to Houston’s increased unemployment. Jones says Gravel’s work ethic, like his, is the secret to sustaining the Houston workforce. 

“There’s work out there for a lot of people, but quit being lazy, get up and try to work,” Jones said. 

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, mining and logging jobs, which include oil field workers, are down nearly 40,000 jobs from June 2015.

(© 2016 KHOU)


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