This political season there is only one issue for Louisiana voters: Jobs.
Democratic state Rep. Pat Smith said her inner-city Baton Rouge constituents ask about little else. In suburban Central, Republican state Rep. Clif Richardson said, “People are on edge over what the future holds.”
Longtime Republican (now Democrat) John Georges, the New Orleans millionaire and occasional candidate, said the periodic polls he and his friends commission have shown that voter worries about employment have grown over recent months to eclipse all other concerns. His polls show frustrated voters are blaming incumbents.
Georges said there’s no coincidence that within a week of his recent poll, Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose surveys probably show the same thing, launched a political commercial patting himself on the back for his efforts to attract businesses to Louisiana. Jindal also has stepped up efforts to blame President Barack Obama for Louisiana’s unemployment woes.
Republican state Sen. Robert Adley, of Benton, said when talking to folks (he doesn’t have fancy polls), they tell him that when someone is not working, all that “one, two, three, not me” finger-pointing comes off as childish.
That was the essence of a speech Adley gave to his state Senate colleagues during the legislative session last spring. “I was telling them that we need to act responsibly because we would be held responsible: not Obama, not BP, not anyone else,” Adley said last week.
Jindal’s aides mobilized then — as they do now — to discredit whoever puts the “U” word, unemployment, in the same sentence as the governor’s name.
Shortly after Adley’s speech, state Department of Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret wrote about a dozen emails to editors of The Advocate, over a four-hour period on May 30, criticizing the newspaper for quoting Adley. Moret said the senator exaggerated when saying that since 2008, when Jindal took office, joblessness in Louisiana had “nearly tripled.”
The unemployment rate had only doubled, Moret argued. “There is a big difference between ‘more than double’ and ‘nearly triple,’ ” he wrote.
In January 2008, when Jindal took office, the unemployment rate was 3.8 percent — 76,964 out of work in a labor force of 2,048,682, according to federal statistics. In March 2011, the unemployment rate was 8.1 percent — 168,687 unemployed from a work force of 2,076,517.
Moret pointed out that Louisiana’s unemployment rate compared favorably to other Southern states. He blamed what unemployment there was on Obama’s insistence that before the federal government allowed further drilling in federal waters, that the oil companies adopt stronger safety procedures on drilling rigs. The presidential order was an attempt to prevent another deadly BP-like explosion that caused a catastrophic release of crude oil off Louisiana’s coast.
Last week, Jindal’s aides trumpeted data showing Louisiana’s unemployment rate had dropped to 7.2 percent in August or 146,673 unemployed, 1,885,385 employed, from a labor force of 2,032,058, according to a Louisiana Workforce Commission report. That’s down from the 7.7 percent rate recorded in August 2010 — 160,185 unemployed and 1,926,031 people employed in a workforce of 2,086,216 in August.
Notice that the number of people employed in Louisiana dropped by 40,646 between August 2010 and August 2011, according to the state report. Plus, the state’s workforce had 54,158 fewer people over the same time period.
At a Sept. 16 meeting with The Advocate’s editorial board, Moret was asked if such reductions in these populations impacted the calculations that led to good news about the drop in the unemployment rate. Does the parsing numbers in the calculation leave an inaccurate impression?
“The unemployment rate is what it is,” Moret said.
Definitions of labor force statistics include the population of people in the workforce and people actively looking for a job, he said. That could account for the lower numbers on which the unemployment calculations are based, he said.
“When people start to be more confident about the state of the economy, or their spouse gets the full-time job back when they’re out of work, the second spouse, maybe, pulls out of the workforce, for example. Right? Definitely,” Moret said. “One thing I’ve learned as secretary is variability in the numbers.”
Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.