Texans struggle to find work in the Rio Grande Valley, where unemployment has nearly tripled

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People cross the international bridge in McAllen. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

Sandra Santos has been doing everything she can to find a job since she was laid off in mid-March from working in the billing and collections department of an ambulance service in the Rio Grande Valley.

The 47-year-old Edinburg native filed for unemployment shortly afterward and recently received her second check in the mail — weeks after she and her boyfriend were evicted from their apartment. Her boyfriend, Joey Quintanilla, is a self-employed landscaper who is also jobless. His regular salary — which fell short of their monthly $500 rent — amounted to “just enough to buy groceries,” according to Santos.

Santos has sought work at Walmart, Target and various fast food chains all over town but hasn’t heard back from hiring managers, who are flooded with applications.

“I’ll call in and follow up and check on my application,” she said. “And they’ll either tell me that they haven’t had a chance to look at it because they have so many applications, or it’s in review.”

More than 2.53 million Texans have filed for unemployment since mid-March — amounting to four typical years’ worth of unemployment claims. And in the Rio Grande Valley, the lack of jobs is even more pronounced. The region’s unemployment rate in May was 17.1%, well above the statewide rate of 13%.

In February, before the pandemic gripped Texas, the Rio Grande Valley's unemployment rate was 6.5%. The increase since shows how hard the Valley has been hit by the economic collapse caused by the coronavirus pandemic and limits on the U.S.-Mexico border crossings that fuel its retail industry. Even the slowdown in the oil and gas sector has affected employees who live in the Valley and work in that industry.

On Monday, city commissioners in McAllen, another Rio Grande Valley city, amended the city budget to cover a $3.3 million shortfall caused by COVID-19 relief programs for residents and small-business owners, according to The Monitor.