Greater Waco Economic IndexThe Greater Waco Economic Index rose from 102.2 in January to 102.6 in February, marking the first month-to-month increase in the GWEI since May of last year.

But the unemployment rate and taxable spending continue to represent problem areas for the Waco economy. The index grew last month but still remains below its year-ago level of 103.5.

Waco’s monthly economic snapshot is prepared by Amarillo-based economist Karr Ingham, who measures activity in various sectors.

The index uses data going back 10 years, with a base line of 100 set for January 2000 for comparison.

Ingham prepares the index for the First National Bank of Central Texas and the Tribune-Herald .

Highlighting the report for February is a discussion of the Texas Workforce Commission and its work to revise unemployment statistical data and payroll employment dating back to 1990 in some cases.

Ingham, who spoke Wednesday in Waco, said those adjustments do not paint a pretty picture for Waco.

But he urged local business leaders not to panic, saying other Texas communities received the same news.

The report states: “From January 2000-December 2007, each monthly employment estimate was revised downward by 700 jobs in the Waco metro area. For each month in 2008, the employment estimate was revised downward by 600 jobs. Monthly estimates in 2009 were revised downward by varying degrees, but the downward revisions were more severe at year-end, with a net change of 1,100 jobs” in the month of December that year.

In other words, the TWC said Waco did not have as many jobs as the commission estimated it had.

The report goes on to say that in 2010, the original employment estimates were revised sharply downward, averaging more than 2,000 fewer jobs for the year.

In December 2010, figures were revised downward by 2,700 jobs.

The unemployment rate was revised upward to reflect these changes.

Overall, the report said Waco enjoyed a robust economy prior to joining other metro areas of Texas in plunging into recession.

The recovery expected in 2010 “fizzled,” and by December of last year, Waco’s GWEI had fallen to its lowest level since March 2004, when the economy was growing and the index was on the way up.

The boost in the index between January and February is encouraging, “but one month does not a trend make,” Ingham said, adding he hopes the recession has bottomed out, but only time will tell.

High unemployment

Still, he said that the unemployment rate of 7.5 per- cent in February was the highest for that month since 1990.

Don Moes, chairman of the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, said during a question-and-answer session at Ingham’s presentation that unemployment statistics can mislead.

“I know of businesses that are having difficulty finding people, and I believe there are people in the unemployment line who want to stay there. I think we, as a society, make it too easy not to look for jobs,” he said.

In other areas addressed by the report:

*  Inflation-adjusted taxable spending declined by 2.6 percent in February from January in the 10 cities that include Waco and its suburbs.

Real spending is up 1.8 percent for the first two months of this year, but still lags behind the January-February totals for 2006-08.

*  Inflation-adjusted auto spending is up 2.2 percent for the first two months of this year.

*  More building permits for all construction were issued in Waco during the first two months of this year than last, and the value of those permits was up nearly 38 percent.

*  Home building permits remain in the doldrums, with the number of single-family residence construction permits down early this year compared to last, and down compared to most of the history of the GWEI.

*  Home sales declined for the ninth straight month in February, with the residential real estate market suffering under the weight of a sluggish economy and tight mortgage credit.

But prices remain strong, generally.

In light of the February report, Ingham wrote, “This is not to suggest that recovery will not take place to some degree in 2011, and indeed that is the proper expectation.

“But it does suggest that recovery will likely be a slow, plodding process with strong, sustained job growth well into the future, perhaps even beyond 2011.”

mcopeland@wacotribcom

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