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Job seekers Aaron Carbo, left, and his brother, Andrew Carbo, speak to Stuller Settings' Corey Latiolais, right, during an August job fair. The state is now 50th in the percentage of jobs recovered after being lost due to the pandemic.

Louisiana is now last in the nation in terms of recovery of COVID-related job losses and is not expected to get those jobs back for several years.

The state has recovered only 38% of all jobs lost due to the pandemic, and employment levels at seven of the state’s nine metros is still 5% or more below levels from the fourth quarter of 2019, according to data compiled by Gary Wagner, Acadiana business economist at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

 Hurricane Ida’s effect on southeast Louisiana sharply reduced employment numbers in the Houma/Thibodaux area and in the New Orleans metro, Wagner noted.

“At the current pace of recovery, most metro areas will not fully regain their COVID job losses for several years,” Wagner wrote in his quarterly report, the Louisiana Economic Activity Forecast.

In September the state had 160,000 fewer jobs, an 8% drop, than it did in the fourth quarter of 2019, even after it gained 3,400 jobs in the third quarter. That drop is larger than the statewide job losses following Hurricane Katrina, Wagner noted.

Jobs lost have been in financial activities, wholesale trade, oil and gas extraction and manufacturing, he noted.

Among MSAs, Lake Charles (17.2%), New Orleans (13.4%) and Houma-Thibodaux (10.2%) and are still more than 10% behind in number of jobs compared to the end of 2019. Lafayette is 7% behind its 2019 total, while Baton Rouge is 6% behind.

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“Hurricane Ida sharply reduced employment in the Houma-Thibodaux and New Orleans metro areas in September,” Wagner wrote. “Both regions are expected to grow more slowly in the near-term.”

Statewide job growth, he predicted, will grow at an average of 1.6% over the next five quarters, a pace that would not reach pre-pandemic levels until the first quarter of 2026.

In the Lafayette MSA, that job growth is predicted to be near 3% over the next four quarters, including 2.8% in the third quarter 2022. Only Lake Charles (2.9%) and New Orleans (4.4%) are predicted to have stronger job gains in the third quarter next year.

The state’s unemployment rate declined more than projected in the third quarter, Wagner noted, dropping to 6.2% after being projected at 6.8%. That figure, however, does not include the growing number of people who have exited the workforce.

Factor in that total, and the unemployment rate would be 9.7%, he noted.

Year-over-year home price growth remains solid but is expected to slow in the first half of 2022 as inventory levels revertback to normal, he said. Prices grew by 6% in the previous quarter, the seventh straight quarter to top 3% growth.

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