BROWNSVILLE, Texas (ValleyCentral) — In 2022, wages in the Rio Grande Valley increased for some as employers faced new challenges to recruit and maintain an adequate workforce.

Even if employed already, many Valley residents were apparently looking to trade up for better jobs and higher pay.

“The [Valley] was the only place in the country with job applications as its top trending ‘near me’ search,” according to Google information obtained by ValleyCentral.

In 2022, three of the Valley’s top-10 trending Google searches pertained to finding employment: No. 7 was “receptionist jobs near me,” and No. 8 was “remote jobs near me.”

Those searches do not surprise Rey Tijada, business services manager with Workforce Solutions Cameron County. Over the last two years, people here have been looking for opportunities to work from home.

Americans were leaving their jobs in droves in 2020 — when the phrase “The Great Resignation” was coined to explain how people were leaving the workforce amid concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I don’t know if that was a big thing down here, but what I can tell you: Job seekers are being really selective about the jobs that they’re taking,” Tijada said. “I mean, that’s fine. They want to be able to market themselves and try to get what they’re worth.”

2022’s job market changed

Over the course of the pandemic, the job market changed.

“This year, especially, now that things have started to get back to some form of normalcy, people have started to come back out and look for work,” Tijada said. “But they are looking for different things.”

Cameron County job hunters are looking for higher wages, looking to change occupations, and many are looking to be able to remain at home while earning pay, Tijada told ValleyCentral.

“I think a lot of people got really comfortable with that model of working from home, I think that some people have seen that it can work successfully,” he said. “And because some people got used to it, I think they even started to look for opportunities like that — that don’t even exist here.”

By definition, remote work can be done anywhere — and therefore local job hunters have not limited their searches to their hometowns and local employers have lost some workers to remote work outside Cameron County. This only complicates local hiring efforts.

“[Remote workers] can work from wherever they want,” Tijada said. “So that’s one thing that we’ve seen. Employer demand, as far as needing to hire, has skyrocketed. Ever since the pandemic, there’s been healthcare shortages. We have people in manufacturing industries also looking for people, but especially in hospitality and food service.”

Wages are increasing

Those industries are now hurting for applicants, Tijada said.

Cameron County has recovered from a staggering unemployment rate of 15.4% in April 2020. The unemployment rate was 5.6% in October.

In Hidalgo County, the unemployment rate was 6.1%, an improvement over the 16.6% rate in April 2020.

This coincides with bigger paychecks. Average weekly wages rose 8% in Cameron County and 5.1% in Hidalgo County for the second quarter of 2022, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Tijada advises employers they are competing for the same applicants and to consider what will set them apart from others in the local hiring market.

“Job seekers are really trying to go with their best option, and the best option for them in terms of wages, whatever the case may be, is a big part of it,” Tijada said.