Experts Say Texas Can Support Evacuee Job Needs

Thousands of hurricane evacuees in Texas are looking for work. Some analysts think the state will be able to absorb them because of its size and its growing economy.

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Thousands of hurricane evacuees in Texas are looking for work. Some analysts think the state will be able to absorb them because of its size and its growing economy. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports.

FRANK LANGFITT reporting:

One hundred and fifty companies showed up for a job fair in Austin earlier this week. By day's end, one in seven evacuees had an offer, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. Among the firms was the staffing company, Manpower, with jobs ranging from switchboard operator to collection agent. Shirley Sanders runs Manpower's Austin office. She says this is a good time to look for work in the city because jobs are available and unemployment is relatively low.

Ms. SHIRLEY SANDERS (Austin, Manpower): Certainly, there's never a good time for a disaster like this to happen, but the good news is that there is more opportunity today than there was, let's say, this time last year.

LANGFITT: While Manpower offered existing positions, some companies created them. Chuy's is a restaurant chain that specializes in Tex-Mex. With so many evacuees coming from New Orleans, Chuy's saw a chance to recruit some regional chefs. Michael Hatcher is the chain's director of operations.

Mr. MICHAEL HATCHER (Director of Operations, Chuy's): Well, we've got an opportunity at a fairly new restaurant here in town called Lucy's Boatyard Grill, that sits on the water, Lake Austin. It does have kind of a coastal feel to it and a lot of grilled fish and that sort of thing. And we thought, `Well, here's an opportunity. A lot displaced folks in New Orleans can do Cajun food and we would love to have some more of that on the menu.' And so we decided that we could make room for three chefs at this new restaurant.

LANGFITT: About 700 people attended the job fair which was organized by Goodwill Industries. Most were lower skilled and had worked service jobs back home. Many, though, did not fill out applications because they haven't made up their minds about the future. Again, Michael Hatcher.

Mr. HATCHER: A lot of the folks we talked to had not yet decided where they wanted to end up. I talked to a couple of folks that grew up, born and raised, in New Orleans and it sounded like they would love to go back. But, obviously, at this point have no idea when.

LANGFITT: An estimated 240,000 evacuees have moved to Texas. That sounds like a lot, but the Texas economy has more than nine million jobs. Daniel Hamermesh teaches economics at the University of Texas at Austin. He thinks many evacuees will return to the Gulf Coast as the region rebuilds, and eventually the influx will seem like a blip.

Mr. DANIEL HAMERMESH (Economics, University of Texas at Austin): I mean, I can't stress enough how little a thing this really is in terms of the impact on the Texas economy.

LANGFITT: But for the displaced, even a temporary job could be a big help as they try to figure out what to do next. Frank Langfitt, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

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