Louisiana gains 23,500 jobs, offsetting oil/gas losses _lowres


Louisiana’s mining and logging employment — the sector that includes oil and gas jobs — was down 6.2 percent in February from a year ago.

Two other sectors — government, and professional and business services — posted smaller declines.

The state as a whole, however, still gained 23,500 nonfarm jobs to hit 1.98 million over the same 12 months, with eight other sectors posting increases.

The 3,300-job loss in mining and logging left statewide employment in that sector at 50,400 last month, according to figures released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that are not seasonally adjusted.

Loren Scott, a longtime LSU economist who now operates his own consulting company, said the dramatic downturn in crude oil prices is responsible for many of those losses.

Over the past year, those prices have dropped from their lofty perch above $100 per barrel to below $50. Benchmark U.S. crude closed Friday at $48.87.

Scott said he believes oil prices will creep above $70 per barrel before the end of the year.

Until then, the economist said, more layoffs are likely to hit Louisiana’s oilfield suppliers and service companies.

“The Tuscaloosa Marine Shale has really dropped off a lot,” Scott said of drilling projects over that shale’s onshore formation across the midsection of Louisiana. “Without an increase in oil prices, many locations over the Tuscaloosa are simply too expensive to drill,” he added.

“The oil companies that are drilling in the Gulf of Mexico are still drilling,” Scott said. “But they’re going to all their subcontractors and saying, ‘The price of oil is down. We’re going to have to cut you 30 percent.’ ”

“You may see some layoffs because of all that,” the economist added. “You’re going to see some layoffs.”

Tough-to-extract oil deposits in Texas and North Dakota are likely to mean much deeper and longer layoffs in those two states than Louisiana, Scott said.

Continuing a trend of more than a year, Louisiana’s construction sector increased its jobs by 3,200 to a total of 136,000 by the end of February. Scott said $60 billion in ongoing big industrial projects require construction workers well beyond this year.

The economist added, however, that those jobs will be concentrated in only a few areas of the state.

“You are going to find a wild, huge disparity on construction jobs across the state,” Scott said.

The Lake Charles area will grow its construction workforce by 25 percent because of multibillion-dollar projects like that of Sasol’s ethane cracker, Scott said.

He said the Mississippi River corridor between Baton Rouge and LaPlace should grow by 10 percent while a number of industrial developments and expansions continue.

Construction jobs in the New Orleans and Lafayette areas may decrease between 3 percent and 7 percent this year, Scott said. The New Orleans metro area, though, should soon need more of those workers for industrial projects planned in St. John the Baptist, St. Charles and St. James parishes.

Demand for construction workers in Alexandria and other cities in the northern half of the state will not match that of the southern half this year, Scott said.

Mining and logging was not Louisiana’s only job sector to shrink as the year ended Feb. 28.

Local, state and federal government agencies lost 6,200 jobs, a decrease of 1.9 percent.

Jobs in the professional and business services sector were down 0.03 percent, a loss of 800 jobs.

All other sectors experienced job gains over the same 12 months. Those sectors and their growth rates are manufacturing, 1.9 percent; trade, transportation and utilities, 2 percent; information, 1.2 percent; financial activities, 3 percent; education and health services, 1.9 percent; leisure and hospitality, 3.8 percent; and other services, 72,400, 1.7 percent.

Using seasonally adjusted information, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Louisiana’s unemployment rate was 6.7 percent last month, an increase of 1.3 points above the rate recorded for February 2014. The nation’s unemployment rate last month was 5.5 percent, a decrease of 1.2 points from a year earlier.

State officials have attributed Louisiana’s rising unemployment rate to people entering the workforce faster than jobs are being created in the state’s rising economy.