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MONEY MAY: Financial experts say pandemic, inflation has Southeast Texas families living 'paycheck-to-paycheck'

Low income coupled with inflation has left multiple Southeast Texas families struggling to make ends meet.

BEAUMONT, Texas — Experts believe multiple issues going on across the world have left families across Southeast Texas financially strained.

Financial experts said a great deal of people in Jefferson County are struggling and many families are living paycheck to paycheck.

“The fact that our unemployment rate is almost twice as high as the national average is dragging down the median household income in Jefferson County,” John McCollough, economics professor at Lamar University, said.

Southeast Texans are facing financial strains due to the pandemic coupled with inflation.

For March of 2022, the national average for unemployment was 3.6%. In the Beaumont area, it was 6.6%. 

McCollough believes several issues caused such a high rate of unemployment, including refineries not operating at 100% capacity.

“There is a crunch in the supply of oil due to the Russian-Ukraine war, and so maybe the refineries aren't getting the amount of supply that they're used to getting,” McCollough said.

McCollough said parts of the service industry are still operating while not being fully staffed. The amount of money Southeast Texans earn can also play a role in their financial struggle.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income in Beaumont in 2020 was just over $48,000. That's well below the national average of $67,000.

Low income coupled with inflation has left multiple Southeast Texas families struggling to make ends meet.

"With prices going up that fast, that high, it erodes the standard of living of those members within the household,” McCollough said.

Lori Higgins with Mobil Oil Credit Union said eight out of 10 American workers live paycheck to paycheck. Higgins said a sudden $300 or $400 expense could spell financial trouble for families in Southeast Texas.

"Which can lead to, there's a lack of emergency savings. That can lead to credit card usage that you may not be prepared to handle,” Higgins said.

Higgins said it's important for Southeast Texans to maintain a high credit score now more than ever.

"Pay your bills on time every time because that will also cause your credit score to go down," Higgins said. "The higher the credit score, the lower the interest rate if you are going to be borrowing money. The lower the interest rate the more money you'll save."

McCullough said property tax increases during this period of inflation adds an increased burden on Southeast Texans and others. 

Southeast Texas is dependent on the refinery industry. Oil and supply shortages and other factors have hurt people's pockets.

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