New study: COVID-19 economic hit to Houston equal to four Hurricane Harveys

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CBS News Business Analyst Jill Schlesinger says hard times are inevitable for oil and gas and other industries in the short term.

HOUSTON, Texas — Houston is suffering an economic storm equal to four Hurricane Harveys.

That’s according to a new study of the first quarter of 2020 by Yelp.

It reports that nearly 37,000 businesses in the Houston area that were open March 1 have since shut down thanks to COVID-19, either temporarily or permanently.

“We know economic activity has come to a standstill, we’re shrinking,” said CBS News Business Analyst Jill Schlesinger during a Zoom interview from her home in New York.

She said Houston’s biggest industry, oil and gas, is definitely not exempt.

COVID-19 prompted decreased demand and plummeting oil prices.

“Obviously, this is a critical issue that’s going on,” Schlesinger said. “I know it really impacts the state of Texas, but I do also think that if you look ahead, the world’s demand for energy is not going away.”

In the short term, Schlesinger said many economists agree that bankruptcies and lay-offs are inevitable.

Some companies may even go under.

But larger ones are better prepared for the booms and busts long associated with the energy business.

“So, it’s really a matter of survival, surviving this horrible period,” Schlesinger said.

Be it oil and gas or any industry, Schlesinger said anyone who loses a job should file for unemployment, prioritize bills and conserve cash.

However, she admitted that anyone’s “rainy day fund” was likely not ready for this.

“You know, it’s not raining,” Schlesinger said. “It’s pouring, it’s a monsoon, it’s an earthquake, and it’s a brush fire, it’s all at once. And this is going to really hurt a lot of people.”

There is a bit of good news for some sectors.

Fitness equipment sales and food delivery services are among the businesses that are booming right now.

Read Yelp’s report here.

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