Article: Professor speaks on state unemployment numbers

Sep 29, 2021 | Business, Engagement

Note: This article originally appeared in the Monroe News Star on Sept. 27, 2021.
Written by Sabrina LeBoeuf

Louisiana unemployment down in all 64 parishes for August, but numbers don’t reflect Hurricane Ida

Once again, the seasonally adjusted preliminary unemployment rate is down over the month and over the year for the Monroe metropolitan statistical area and all 64 parishes.

According to the Louisiana Workforce Commission’s August report, Monroe’s unemployment rate was 4.9%, down from 5.5% in July and 7.3% in August 2020.

Louisiana’s not seasonally adjusted unemployment rate came down to 5.5% for August, which stood at 6.3% last month and 8.3% last year. Louisiana was one of the top three states in over-the-month unemployment rate decreases, according to the U.S. Bureau for Labor Statistics. 

Patrick Scott, assistant professor of economics at Louisiana Tech University, said the downtick in unemployment, especially in highly populated areas like Baton Rouge and New Orleans, shows much promise for the state.

Scott said these numbers reflect the state’s early ending of federal extended unemployment benefits, which may have prompted some folks to get back into the labor force.

“We’re on a path to recovery,” Scott said. “Still, the key to recovery for Louisiana is going to be to engage the long-term unemployed that have left the labor force.”

The state reported an increase of 19,873 not seasonally adjusted employed individuals from August 2020 to August 2021. Scott said this can be attributed to the increase in self-employed individuals. Meanwhile the labor force participation rate remains fairly stagnant. Scott said the rate decreased 1/10 of 1% from July to August. 

The leisure and hospitality industry showed the largest increases for not seasonally adjusted jobs. From August 2020 to 2021, the industry gained 24,700 jobs. In comparison, the industry with the second highest gains was education and health services, which saw an uptick of 8,800 jobs.

Scott said the volatility of the hospitality industry due to COVID-19 could be the reason behind the large increase in jobs. 

“They were the ones that took the brunt of COVID in terms of the job losses, so the fact that they’re adding right now just disproportionately more workers, that’s not necessarily surprising,” Scott said. “They have so much ground to pull back.”

This report has yet to reveal the impact of Hurricane Ida, which hit Louisiana on Aug. 29, according to Louisiana Workforce Commission Secretary Ava Cates.

“These numbers don’t reflect the reality of the situation we find ourselves in today,” Cates said. “People are still suffering after Hurricane Ida, and we are in the middle of hurricane season. We have a lot of work to do to make sure people can still find work in our state and have the money they need to get them through difficult times.”

Scott said the initial unemployment claims following Hurricane Ida indicate the severity of the storm’s impact on the economy. For the week ending in Sept. 4, Scott said claims increased to 9,700. One week later, numbers were up to 14,000, but Scott said claims are already on the downward trend. Numbers nearly cut in half for the week ending in Sept. 18.

These numbers are much smaller compared to the claims seen following Hurricane Katrina, which had initial unemployment claims nearing 74,000. Claims stemming from COVID-19 peaked around 100,000.

“We’re not seeing numbers near what we saw for Hurricane Katrina with Hurricane Ida, mostly because Hurricane Ida really just devastated the areas that were relatively low populated,” Scott said.