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The Beige Book: Faced with economic uncertainty, more Texans turn to nonprofits

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Julia Reihs/KUT
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Aaron Garcia (left), and Kelli Andrews (right), volunteer with the Central Texas Food Bank. One of the more notable findings of the recently-released Beige Book is that more Texans are turning to nonprofit services for assistance.

Hiring shortages and an easing of housing costs among the other findings in the report.

Eight times a year, the Federal Reserve publishes The Beige Book, an economic report that looks to gauge the state of the economy — and unlike typical economics reports, which focus on wonky economic indicators, the Beige Book looks at the more informal, qualitative aspects of the economy.

Sean Saldana is a reporter and a producer at the Texas Standard and he joined the show to talk about jobs in Texas, the price of rent, and why more Texans are reaching out to nonprofits. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity:

Texas Standard: Let’s begin with some of the top line findings from this edition of the Beige Book. What do you see?

Sean Saldana: Yes, so a lot of the biggest and most important things in this edition of the Beige Book are more updates and continuations of developments and things we’ve talked about here on the show. So, for example, the issue of finding and retaining workers, it’s been really tricky for employers. And so anybody who’s been to a restaurant or retail location could probably tell you this themselves. But the Dallas Fed’s entry also gives us some numbers to back this up. So in one survey conducted, they found that about one third of firms were, “understaffed and looking to hire for new positions.” And so some industries they singled out as being especially difficult to staff are healthcare workers, commercial truck drivers, oilfield workers, and just about every position in a restaurant.

Well, hiring shortages are one of the throughlines for the economy over the past few years and another is the rising cost of housing. What does a Beige Book say there?

Yeah, again, one of the things we’ve covered a lot is how finally, in response to rising interest rates and economic uncertainty, home prices are starting to come down. So in May of this year, the median home in Texas was going for about $360,000. October, the last month we have data for, that dropped around $335,000, and that’s according to the real estate center at Texas A&M.

What about renters? Are they mentioned in the Beige Book anywhere? 

They are. There are millions of Texans who are renters. And so we’ve heard stories about people’s rents going up by hundreds of dollars a month. And finally, we’re starting to see some rents come down – which is good if you happen to be a Texan who rents.

Anything else that stands out to you?

Yeah, one of the bigger findings here is around the demand for nonprofit services. More and more people are reaching out to organizations like Irving Cares, the nonprofit based in the DFW area. They have food pantry services. They host job fairs. They help people complete their degrees. I spoke with Kyle Taylor. He’s the CEO of the organization.

Kyle Taylor: One of the things at Irving Cares that has been really interesting is over the last 14 months, we have seen a huge increase in people who, for the very first time, are reaching out to Irving Cares for help. We’re running about 33% to 38% new folks that are coming to Irving Cares for the very first time.

Quite a jump in the demand for services. What are people showing up at Irving Cares in need of?

Yeah, so according to Kyle, a lot of this comes back to the basics. Things like rent, utilities, child care assistance.

Kyle Taylor: We’ve seen a humongous increase just in our rental assistance, in our utility assistance, over the last 12 months because of the rate increases that we’ve seen through rents and utilities and our folks having to reach out for help to be able to make those ends meet.

I guess you have a lot of different types of people reaching out for services right now?

Yeah, so again, obviously, anybody can find themselves down on their luck, but Kyle tells me that especially they’re seeing a big uptick in single parents and elderly people as well. And I think a lot of this comes back to the big issue of inflation, which is essentially where your money just doesn’t go as far as it used to. If you’re somebody who’s on a fixed income or having to provide for more than one person, there’s just not a whole lot to cut back on in day to day spending.

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