Photo courtesy Ben Thompson via Flickr

The April unemployment rate in the Austin metro is the lowest it’s been in three years. It dropped half a point—from 6 percent in March to 5.5 percent in April. Last year at this time, Austin unemployment was at 6.3 percent.

"The Austin metropolitan area's unemployment rate has decreased in eight of the last nine months," said Texas Workforce Commission spokesperson Mark Lavergne.

The Texas Workforce Commission says Austin saw growth in nine of 10 major industries in April. 6,300 jobs were added in the Austin area last month —many in construction and in the Professional and Business Services sector.

Today the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce announced the launch of a new website designed to help fill Austin’s so-called “technology gap.”

The chamber says that Austin tech companies are having trouble finding qualified local candidates for mid-to-senior level positions. Last month the chamber found that 28 percent of posted job openings in the area were tech-related.

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A high school diploma is touted as the bare minimum students need to achieve. And now a new study pegs the financial value of high school graduation to the Austin region’s economy.

The Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington DC-based non-profit  focused on improving national graduation rates, has released a study detailing the effects on Austin’s regional economy if the amount of high school dropouts was cut in half – with benefits reaching into the millions.

It’s estimated that in the Austin-Round Rock Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), some 6,100 students dropped out of the class of 2010. Home to 45 schools, the Alliance says the region is one of the lowest performing in the nation, with 28 percent of high school students failing to graduate on time and with a regular diploma.

Most of the estimated 1.5 million people graduating from a four-year college this spring will soon be looking for a job.

If the experiences of other recent college grads are any guide, many will be disappointed.

A new Rutgers University survey of those who graduated from college between 2006 and 2011 finds that just half of those grads are working full time.

Settling For Part Time

Photo by Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

It being election season in Austin, you’ve likely heard some candidate singing the city’s praises – or blasting Austin’s inclusion on various Top 10 lists as a sign of increasing cost.

KUT News likes to compile the city’s latest Top 10 accolades – but take it one step further, into a Top 10 list of our own. You can see our previous Top 10 list here.  

As we wrote then, to get a gauge of just how many Austin-happy rankings are floating around, we look for “best cities” rankings including Austin over the last few months. And from that, we compiled this meta-master list, a Top 10 of the city’s most recent Top 10 rankings ranging from the apparent, to the arbitrary, to the really, really arbitrary. So without further ado:

1. You grow up so fast!: No surprise here, but Austin’s growing, and growing fast. Forbes ranks Austin Number One in its April 18 study of “America’s Fastest Growing Cities.”

Photo by KUT News

The unemployment rate is down again in the Austin area.

According to Workforce Solutions, the unemployment rate for March dropped to six percent — that’s just a tenth of a percent lower than in February but remains well below the state and national averages.

Workforce Solutions Capital Area Executive Director Alan Miller says things are moving in the right direction at a slow and steady pace.

Food stamps have long been a favorite whipping boy of politicians looking to beat up on government spending. But the massive food-assistance program does help keep people out of poverty, according to new research.

Food stamp benefits led to a decline of 4.4 percent in poverty from 2000 to 2009, according to a new report from the USDA's Economic Research Service.

Photo by Nathan Bernier, KUT News

The percentage of low-income residents in Austin is going up. That’s according to the Community Action Network’s third annual Community Dashboard report, released this morning.

It's a popular idea in Texas that the Lone Star State — once an independent republic — could break away and go it alone. A few years ago, Texas Gov. Rick Perry hinted that if Washington didn't stop meddling in his state, independence might be an option. In his brief run for the White House, he insisted that nearly anything the feds do, the states — and Texas in particular — could do better.

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Mayor Lee Leffingwell proposed this morning that Austin apply for a program that would encourage international investment in local green jobs, by designating Austin as an EB-5 Regional Center.

But what on earth is an EB-5 Regional Center?

A designation of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), EB-5 Regional Centers allow cities to receive immigrant investor capitol – either $500,000 or $1 million. Investors must also present evidence the investment “will create at least 10 full-time positions.” In exchange, the investor and the investor’s family “is granted conditional permanent residence” – more commonly known as a green card – “for a two-year period.” 

Photo illustration by Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

Texas government agencies have paid fired or resigning state employees more than $500 million in unused vacation time over the last decade. It’s a staggering sum that fiscal conservative critics call “ridiculous,” especially in tough budget times.

But state workers say what’s ridiculous is that so many jobs have been cut — and that agencies are so understaffed that employees can’t take vacations.

In each of the last 10 years, state officials paid out an average $50 million in accrued vacation time, according to data from the Texas comptroller’s office. That number crept up to $68 million in 2004 and $67 million last year — both on the heels of a budget shortfall and related layoffs.

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Texas manufacturing ticked up last month, according to a report from the Dallas Federal Reserve (DFR).

The Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey is conducted by the DFR monthly. It only complies results from 85 Texas manufacturers, so it’s more of a snapshot that a comprehensive assessment. Still, the findings reflect improving conditions among those surveyed.

The DFR points to several signs of manufacturing improvement: The state production index, the DFR’s gauge of manufacturing conditions, rose by over five points, from 5.8 to 11.2. New orders, shipments, and capacity utilization all posted gains for the month.

Employment measures – both new hires and hours worked by current employees – also saw growth.

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The City of Austin’s banking practices may soon get a thorough scrubbing with a resolution inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement.

An item before the Austin City Council this Thursday would examine the city’s banking practices, assess the impact of dissolving arrangements with large financial institutions and examine contracting with local credit unions and banks instead.

It would also direct the City Manager “to review the city’s current banking policies and make recommendations on changes to give preference to banks that support community reinvestment goals, such as the stabilization of the housing market, provision of loans to local homeowners and businesses, establishment of local branches in low-income communities, and opportunities for local employment.”

The item is sponsored by council member Laura Morrison. She tells KUT News a large part of the resolution is simply fact-finding.

Photo by KUT News

Austin saw a surge in single-family home sales last month, according to the Austin Board of Realtors.

In a new report, the board says home sales were up ten percent last month over January 2011. While comparing two months worth of data has limitations, the finding speaks more broadly to Austin housing demand.

Eldon Rude, director of the Austin market for real estate tracking firm Metrostudy, says the January numbers are part of an ongoing recovery of Austin’s housing market.

Rude says the numbers are “driven by continued increases in population and household in the region over the last several years, and people beginning to react to increasing rents in the apartment market, and so they’re moving toward the for sale housing market.”

The Nation: The Romantic-Industrial Complex

Feb 14, 2012

Samhita Mukhopadhyay is the Executive Editor of and the author of Outdated: Why Dating is Ruining Your Love Life.

KUT News

STAAR-Crossed Educators Take Second Look at Test

Districts from across Texas are finding ways to curtail a component of the STAAR exam that makes the test  count towards students' grade-point averages and class rank, according to the Austin American-Statesman. The move comes in the wake of a growing unease with the role of standardized testing.

While the exam is required by law to compose 15 percent of a student's grade in each course, no specific guideline for doing so exists. With that leeway, individual districts are taking the reins into their own hands. Georgetown and Pflugerville, for example, have set minimum scores on end-of-course exams at 60 and 69, respectively.

In Austin, AISD has polled parents on several potential courses of action. Currently, all of the proposed options would affect class rank.  But now with the actions of surrounding districts, AISD is poised to change how they'll incorporate the scores.

The Austin school board will meet today to discuss end-of-course exams. The meeting is at 6:30 p.m., Carruth Administration Center Board Auditorium, Room B100, 1111 W. Sixth St.

Photo by KUT News

It's Friday, so here’s an end-of-the-week look at what we’ve been following: News from, our reporting partner StateImpact Texas, and our friends at the Texas Tribune:

AISD Teachers Weigh Options with In-District Charter (KUT News):

"A charter school operator from South Texas is moving into East Austin’s Allan Elementary School next school year. It’s the first step in a multiyear strategy that Austin ISD hopes will reverse years of academic setbacks. But for some teachers, it’s a cue to leave their campus.

“I do not want to be a part of what they’re bringing to our community, and it’s still not what I think is best for kids,” Allan Elementary bilingual education teacher Constanza Serna said.

Austin ISD’s first ever in-district charter school program starts next year and will be run by IDEA Public Schools from South Texas. Alejandro Delgado – a graduate of Bowie High in Austin – will be the first vice principal of the renamed IDEA Allan campus.

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UT Board of Regents Negotiate Sale of Players Restaurant

As reported by The Daily Texan, UT’s Board of Regents affirmed their desire to purchase Players Restaurant from owners Carlos Oliveria and Edward A. Hempe. The news came at a Regents meeting in San Antonio on Wednesday.

The university does not have definite plans for the land but is considering adding a building to house the Red McCombs MBA program.  

University spokesman Gary Susswein would not comment on specifics of the sale because a discussion would undercut negotiations.

Image by Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

A 12-page report released Wednesday by the Texas comptroller's office offers a wide-ranging look at the effects of the record drought that is still gripping Texas.

The report, "The Impact of the 2011 Drought and Beyond," contains few new figures for drought losses but offers graphics that depict the breadth of the problem, which hurt crops, threatens electricity production and forced 55 communities to ban outdoor watering.

"Texas is prone to cycles of drought which makes it important for residents, businesses, and state and local governments to manage water use," Comptroller Susan Combs said in a prepared statement. "Every Texan has a stake in water issues the state faces.”

Despite recent rains, 95 percent of the state remains in drought.

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If Austin Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA) seemed crowded last time you flew, there’s a reason for that: ABIA announced a record travel year for 2011, with over nine million total travelers. That’s a five percent bump over last year’s takeoffs and departures.

Southwest Airlines leads the pack, with 3,325,925 passengers served out of ABIA. American Airlines came in second at 1,867,087.