Curt Eysink is right that oil and gas is always a cyclical business, but this is just ridiculous: Employment in the oil patch is at fewer than 43,000.
That’s the lowest total since 1990, when the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics began its current tracking system of “mining and logging” jobs as a category.
For Eysink, head of the Louisiana Workforce Commission, the entire state is his portfolio, so he sees the bright spots as well as the grim. “Although we have job losses related to oil prices, we still have thousands of jobs available in other sectors,” he said.
That includes more than 4,000 new construction jobs, which reached 146,000 in November, according to the BLS report.
Those figures are one of the discordant notes in Louisiana’s economy today: Low natural gas prices fuel petrochemical manufacturing, so construction jobs are rising, particularly along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and the Calcasieu River at Lake Charles.
Industrial construction, too, can be a cyclical business, although we can look forward to employment of workers, including contractors, maintaining the big petrochemical complexes.
It is in the exploration and oilfield services side of the business that Louisiana employers have reached a new low in the BLS statistics.
By way of comparison, Louisiana’s decline of 0.6 percent in November employment was significantly worse than the nation’s rising job totals. U.S. companies fueled a 1.9 percent overall increase in jobs in the nation.
Whether employed in oilfield services or not, the businesses in the oil-patch parishes are heavily dependent not only on direct spending by those businesses but the spin-offs of that income. No political leader likes to see the impact of such job losses reflected in sales tax proceeds, but that is the prospect for new men in the State Capitol and in Lafayette’s mayor-president’s office.
Both Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards and Joel Robideaux, incoming Lafayette Parish mayor-president, will see significant challenges if tax proceeds stumble.
Our oil-patch struggle is a serious matter for the families used to good-paying jobs in the oil sector. Still, low gasoline prices — a function of lower oil prices — provide more money in the pocketbooks of families and Eysink is correct in noting that Louisiana is more diversified in its economic activity.
At one time, for example, 41 percent of the state budget was driven by oil and gas prices. It’s far less than half of that now, although declines do hurt both directly in severance tax revenues and in sales and other revenue categories.
To paraphrase the poet John Donne, we’re more a part of the continent, a piece of the main, economically than Louisiana was in the previous huge oil-price slump of the 1980s. That may help to moderate some of the undeniable problems that many families will face in the new year.