Midland or Bust: Texas Shale Oil Boom Upends Regional Labor Market

Midland or Bust: Texas Shale Oil Boom Upends Regional Labor Market

LinkedIn’s latest Workforce Report for the US spotlights a phenomenon that’s shaking up the labor market in and around Texas, the nerve center of the American oil industry, where hiring has spiked in tandem with oil prices. Energy industry hiring rose 5.2 percent in the year to May 2018, compared to an average of 4.5 percent across all industries nationwide, LinkedIn found. Job growth has closely tracked the price of oil, with a dip in 2015-2016 followed by a boom as prices have risen steadily over the past two years. Hiring in Houston, the energy industry’s home base, grew 12.4 percent year-over-year, contributing to a reduction in the surplus of petroleum engineering, energy, and geology skills.

The energy industry is particularly sensitive to boom-bust cycles, and, so are cities like Odessa and Midland in west Texas, where the local economy is dominated by a single industry (in this case, oil), the report notes. In the current boom cycle, the migration of workers to the Odessa-Midland area is further tightening labor markets in Houston and other Texas cities:

With oil prices on the rise, talent inflows to this oil boom-town have picked up, particularly from the three largest Texas cities—Houston, Dallas, and Austin. Net movements to Odessa-Midland from these cities have grown significantly since September 2017, to 0.34 per 10,000 from Dallas (750%), 1.05 per 10,000 from Houston (44%), and 1.03 from Austin (255%). This impact can also be felt in the housing market—a recent report found that Odessa-Midland had the highest national rent increase in 2017, up 35.7% year-over-year.

Driving this boom is the rapid expansion of shale oil extraction in the Permian Basin, west Texas’s oil and natural gas producing region. High oil prices combined with advances in extraction technology have made shale extraction increasingly profitable, meaning oil companies have the incentive and the resources to lure talent with high pay. That’s great news for anyone working on an oil rig, but ancillary workers like truck drivers are also seeing huge signing bonuses and pay hikes, the Wall Street Journal reports, with some truckers in the Permian Basin earning over $100,000 a year, double the national average for long-haul truckers.

The US labor market is historically tight in general, so we’ve seen other examples recently of employers using signing bonuses to court talent in fields where this practice is relatively unusual, such as construction and seasonal tourism. In the west Texas boomtowns, a local unemployment rate of 2.1 percent is causing some odd side effects, which David Wethe explored in a piece at Bloomberg this week. The school system in Odessa, for example, is hurting for bus drivers, as so many of them have left for the oil fields.

Midland Mayor Jerry Morales, also a local restaurateur, tells Wethe that he is considering funneling the tax revenue bonanza the city has accrued from the oil boom into raises for city workers, to prevent them from doing the same. Yet with the energy industry paying top dollar for even low-skilled employees, Wethe writes, it’s hard for other employers to compete:

“It is crazy,” said Jazmin Jimenez, 24, who zipped through a two-week training program at New Mexico Junior College in Hobbs, about 100 miles north of Midland, and was hired by Chevron Corp. as a well-pump checker. “Honestly I never thought I’d see myself at an oilfield company. But now that I’m here — I think this is it.”

That’s understandable, considering the $28-a-hour she makes is double what she was earning until December as a guard at the Lea County Correctional Facility in Hobbs. When the boom goes bust, as history suggests they all do, shale-extraction businesses won’t be able to out-pay most employers anymore. Jimenez said she’ll take the money as long as it lasts.