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Motorists take part in a caravan protest in front of Senator John KennedyÕs office at the Hale Boggs Federal Building asking for the extension of the $600 in unemployment benefits to people out of work because of the coronavirus in New Orleans, La. Wednesday, July 22, 2020. The benefits are set to expire on July 25 and the caravan of about a dozen cars was organized by UNITE HERE Local 23, Step UP Louisiana, The New Orleans Democratic Socialists of America and local residents to request that Senator John Kennedy and Sen. Bill Cassidy work to extend the benefit. (Photo by Max Becherer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

New unemployment claims in Louisiana shot up for an unknown reason led by real estate, rental and leasing services for the week ending Nov. 14, Louisiana Workforce Commission data released Monday showed.

The report shows first-time jobless claims surging to 43,618 across the state last week, compared to 10,045 filed the week before. New unemployment claims haven't reached such a height since early May as pandemic-related lockdowns took a toll on employment, according to the state data submitted to the federal government without comment.

"Hopefully it's a clerical error," said Andrew Fitzgerald, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber's senior director of business intelligence and economist who's been closely monitoring local and statewide data during the coronavirus pandemic for weekly chamber reports.

"I don't think there's a strong argument that people are committing fraud here," he said, but did note that the federal government had issued a warning in May that suggested state's could be vulnerable to fraud attempts.

The Louisiana Workforce Commission did not respond to requests for comment. 

Of the 43,618 new jobless claims last week, 10,400 came in real estate across Louisiana, followed by more than 7,000 fewer employed workers in professional, scientific and technical services, according to the mid-November data. But there hasn't been any major layoffs in those industries announced recently.

"It's kind of inexplicable. We're not seeing massive closures. This is kind of a mystery. Why is this happening in Louisiana and no other states? It also comes off a pretty good jobs report," Fitzgerald said.

For example, Louisiana had more new unemployment claims as of Nov. 14 than the entire state of Texas, which is "just wild," Fitzgerald said.

Meanwhile, the ranks of those still without a job decreased during the same time frame from 98,935 to 91,023 as of Nov. 14.

"It would mean one out of every 10 unemployed people would be a Realtor who got laid off last week; that's crazy," Fitzgerald said.

If the data is accurate, that would mean there are roughly as many individuals who recently were laid off in real estate as those who are still unemployed in retail trade across Louisiana.

The data is also a significant departure from a typical pandemic week, when food services and hotel accommodations led job losses, followed by education and health services and construction.

"It's a very big change. Assuming that it's not an error, it's the ripple effect as it's working through the economy," said Jim Richardson, longtime professor of economics at LSU. "I think it shows that this is leaking through the system," he said. 

Louisiana's reliance on tourism as an industry that's been particularly hard hit could be to blame for the surge in real estate-related job losses, as vacation home brokers don't have a Mardi Gras season to book travelers for in 2021 or many other festivals.

"This is not a typical year because the economy has been shut down but I'm not surprised this is happening. We may be a month ahead of the curve," Richardson said.

"If this continues, we're in for another round of real economic issues that we have to deal with; so it's really important that something happens at the federal level."

Acadiana Business Today: Big spike in Louisiana new unemployment claims in mid-November a mystery; is it a glitch or fraud?


Email Kristen Mosbrucker at kmosbrucker@theadvocate.com.