Jim Wells County in the Coastal Bend followed closely the rise and fall of the oil and gas industry in recent years. After reaching a peak of 11 percent in January 2010, its unemployment rate improved continually through the end of 2014. Rapid development of well drilling activity in the area also led to employment growth more than 10 percent in 2012.
The collapse of the oil market beginning 2015 has taken a hit on Jim Wells County. The area lost more than 10 percent of local jobs in 2015 and job losses continued throughout 2016. Its unemployment rate also surged immediately after drilling activity slowed down, reaching 11 percent in mid-2016. Gauged by local sales tax collections, the area's overall business conditions have also weakened dramatically.
In Jim Wells County, health care is the largest sector, making up nearly one-quarter of the local workforce. Christus Spohn Hospital in the City of Alice is a major health care provider in the region. Since 2005, growth of the health care sector in this county has in fact lagged the growth of that sector nationwide.
The mining sector employs another 15 percent of the local workforce. The employment share of oil and gas extraction represents more than 35 times the employment share of this industry in a typical U.S. community.
The overall educational attainment level of residents in Jim Wells County is lower than the U.S. average. Only 10 percent of the adult population in the area holds a Bachelor's degree or higher, compared to nearly 30 percent nationwide.
Due to income growth associated with shale oil and gas production, the average annual earnings for employees in this County have been quite close to the Texas state average. However, the fall of oil and gas drilling in South Texas has widened this income gap in the past two years.
Development of the shale oil and gas industry has also contributed to local business growth in Jim Wells County. The number of business establishments per 1,000 residents increased from 20.8 in 2004 to a record high of 24.3 in 2014.