Furloughed in March from her job at a national dental company, Tina Gutierrez hoped she would return to the well-paying position once business picked up again.

Then came the call on June 17 that she was being laid off. As the director of community engagement who oversaw a team of 13 in two states, Gutierrez then had to call each team member with the news that they were being laid off, too.

Since then, she’s been applying for new jobs, but hasn’t had a single call back. The mother of four – and sole provider for her family – is relying on unemployment benefits and withdrawals from her retirement account to make ends meet.

“You work for a company for two years and we understand business and the pandemic … but it was also something that was very heartfelt for everybody, because it’s kind of tragic that you don’t know what you’re going to do from one day to the next,” she said.

Gutierrez is one of thousands who applied for unemployment benefits at the end of April when the state’s unemployment rate hit a historic high of 13.3 percent, with more than 280,00o filings during one week alone.

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In the weeks since, the state’s unemployment claims figures have steadily declined after Gov. Greg Abbott allowed businesses to reopen at reduced capacities and people got back to work.  

This week, however, those numbers appeared to climb again according to internal data posted by the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC).

As of Thursday, just days after Abbott closed bars and implemented new restrictions on some types of businesses and gatherings, early estimates from TWC indicate 110,700 jobless claims were filed, or 14,559 more than the week ending June 27.

In May, the national unemployment rate stood at 13 percent, down slightly from a peak of 14.7 percent in April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The unemployment rate in the San Antonio-New Braunfels Metropolitan area trailed the national rate at 12.7 percent, or nearly 150,000 people, during the month of May.

On Thursday, the Department of Labor reported that the national unemployment rate had declined to 11.1 percent for June when hiring was supported by business reopenings and government aid.

But as cases rise in Texas and leaders reverse course on openings, recovery could stall out.

Since the pandemic began to affect Texas in March, the agency received over 3.5 million unemployment claims and paid out over $16 billion in benefits using state and federal funds, a TWC spokesman said.

TWC figures show a decline in unemployment filings during June, but the numbers remain at all-time highs. Overall, Harris County has been hardest hit, with nearly 83,000 unemployment claims filed between May 20 and June 20. In Bexar County, over 25,000 unemployment claims were filed during that period. Travis County stands at 14,000.

On Tuesday, TWC announced it would delay reinstating the work search requirement for unemployment benefits in Texas. Two weeks earlier, the agency had said it would restore that requirement starting July 6, with the first report due July 19.

“Due to the resurgence of COVID-19 cases in Texas, TWC has decided to pause the return of work search requirements at this time,” stated Ed Serna, TWC executive director. “We will continue to monitor the situation and make further recommendations in late July.”

The surge in filings early on that caused system crashes and overwhelmed phone banks has forced the agency to ramp up its response. Though the majority of jobless claims are filed online, the spokesman said, TWC has doubled the number of call centers, keeping them open every day, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

In the most recent Bexar Facts poll, 66 percent of those surveyed said that among the current issues facing Bexar County, unemployment is an extremely or very serious problem.

Ninety-two percent said they support providing workforce development support, including job training and child care for essential workers, and 77 percent support government-provided housing assistance.

After she was laid off, Gutierrez contacted her landlord, who reduced her monthly rent through the end of the year. She hopes that will allow her to stay in her home and the Northside Independent School District. She dropped cable TV to cut costs but plans to resubscribe to an internet service so her special-needs child can participate in online schooling this summer.

“Even taking a lower-paying job would help me, because I know that I’ve always advanced just because of my skills and my work ethic,” Gutierrez said. “I’m willing to start all over again.”

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is a journalist and writer in San Antonio, and a business reporter for The Rivard Report.