A woman leaves Books & Bibs child care and learning academy. Lack of access to child care is proving a barrier for those seeking employment.
A woman leaves Books & Bibs child care and learning academy. A new Bexar Facts poll finds lack of access to child care is viewed as a barrier for those seeking employment. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Voters in Bexar County think the biggest challenges for local job seekers are a lack of affordable child care, difficulty finding a job that pays enough or gives enough hours, and the belief that unemployment can pay more than a job would.

The results are among the many that have come from a new Bexar Facts/KSAT/San Antonio Report poll that asked registered voters in the county how they feel about dozens of social and political issues.

San Antonio’s unemployment rate declined in August to 4.8%, the lowest since March 2020, according to the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank. But with “we’re hiring” signs still prevalent throughout the city, there is no sign of the worker shortage abating. The standard unemployment rate does not measure some parts of the labor force, such as those who have stopped looking for work altogether.

Poll results reflected fewer respondents who described themselves as unemployed but nonetheless indicated that barriers to finding a suitable job persist as the local economy recovers from the worst of the pandemic.

Roughly half of respondents thought that a lack of affordable child care was a major challenge for job seekers, which was more than any of the other six possible challenges listed. Another 13% of respondents said it was a “minor challenge.”

The share of respondents calling it a major challenge was even larger for respondents who are women, identified as Latino, under the age of 40, or most significantly, as Democrats. Roughly 63% of Democrats said it was a major challenge, compared to 38% of Republicans.

Child care for working families has become a keystone priority for the Texas Workforce Commission, which is temporarily subsidizing costs for service workers across the state in an effort to get them back to workplaces. Even in non-pandemic times, child care subsidies make up three-quarters of the local arm of the organization’s budget.

Sixty-eight percent of respondents cited a lack of opportunity to get a job that pays sufficiently or gives enough hours as a challenge for job seekers.

Democrats were much more likely to call it a major challenge with roughly two-thirds saying so. Only 285 of Republicans said the same.

Thomas Tunstall, director of research at the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Institute for Economic Development, said the issue of wages for the working class have been bubbling under the surface for years. “COVID was the trigger event,” he said, because it brought unemployment to levels approaching the Great Depression, invited a massive federal response, and forced many to reevaluate their work lives.

He said the U.S. economy’s growth since the 1970s has not been shared equally with workers. According to the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, net productivity in the U.S. economy rose nearly 62% in the last 40 years, while the hourly pay of workers in production and non-supervisory roles has grown less than 18%, adjusting for inflation. The extra money from that increase in productivity has instead gone to company profits and shareholders, the institute says.

In recent months, many local industries have begun to raise wages in an effort to attract workers back.

Rey Chavez, president of the San Antonio Manufacturers Association, said not every business can afford to pay workers $15 an hour.

“Some people think businesses make money hand over fist over the backs of workers, but that’s not a true statement,” he said. The overwhelming majority of the region’s 1,500 or so manufacturers are small to medium-sized, he said, employing less than 50 or 100 workers respectively. He said manufacturing wages were higher than average.

Wages in some industries are higher than others. National figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that workers without supervisory roles in the leisure and hospitality industry — a staple of San Antonio’s economy — earned $16.60 an hour in August 2021. Meanwhile, manufacturing workers earned an average of $24.01 an hour.

Similar to the share of respondents who said workers couldn’t find jobs that paid enough or gave enough hours, 63% of respondents said a challenge came from job seekers getting more in unemployment benefits than a job would pay.

More than half of Republican-affiliated voters said it was a major challenge, but nearly two-fifths of Democrat-affiliated voters said the same. Nearly half of women respondents and half of Latino respondents also said so.

The average weekly benefit for those on unemployment insurance in Texas was $410.66 in August. Pandemic-related federal unemployment benefits were cut off from Texans in June.

Contracting COVID-19 on the job was also thought by 68% of respondents to be a challenge for job seekers.

For 68% of respondents, a lack of good-paying mid-level jobs was said to be a challenge.

A lack of job training and skill-building programs was called a major challenge by 31% of respondents, and a minor challenge by 33%.

The Bexar Facts/KSAT/San Antonio Report poll surveyed 602 registered voters in Bexar County Sept. 21-27.

Waylon Cunningham

Waylon Cunningham writes about business and technology. Contact him at waylon@sareport.org.