The Baton Rouge and New Orleans metropolitan areas were pacemakers as nonfarm employment increased in seven of Louisiana’s eight metros in December, the Louisiana Workforce Commission reported Friday.
Those numbers, which are not seasonally adjusted, also show statewide nonfarm employment edged past the 2 million mark for the first time in history. Three days earlier, the LWC reported in seasonally adjusted numbers that nonfarm employment totaled 1.99 million in December.
“Employers have been adding jobs in most industry sectors and in many parts of the state,” Curt Eysink, LWC’s executive director, said Friday. “Broad-based and sustained job growth is great for Louisiana.”
Stephen R. Barnes, director of LSU’s division of economic development, said crossing the 2 million mark for nonfarm employment may seem like a nonevent to some people.
“On the other hand, it is significant,” Barnes said. He said that number emphasizes Louisiana’s continuing growth and attracts attention to business opportunities across the state.
“Crossing that 2 million nonfarm job threshhold is a great benchmark,” Barnes added.
The nine-parish Baton Rouge metro contributed 398,000 nonfarm jobs to the statewide total for December. That was a gain of 6,100 jobs since December 2013, a boost made possible by 4,200 new construction jobs.
The New Orleans area gained 7,700 nonfarm jobs over the year and pushed its total to 561,800 last month. The metro gained 4,100 educational services jobs and another 1,900 in trade, transportation and utilities. It lost 1,300 jobs in the specialty trade contractors sector and another 1,100 state government jobs.
Lafayette’s metro included 700 new manufacturing jobs in its overall gain of 2,900 last month. The area also grew 600 jobs in trade, transportation and utilities. Its largest loss was 300 jobs in support activities for mining. The mining sector includes oil and gas industries.
The Lake Charles area gained 4,700 nonfarm jobs last month, according to the LWC’s unadjusted numbers.
Other gains were posted by Houma-Thibodaux, 2,200 new nonfarm jobs; Shreveport-Bossier City, 2,200; and Monroe, 700.
The Alexandria metro had 400 fewer jobs last month than it did in December 2013.
Like the state as a whole, though, all eight metro areas ended 2014 with higher unemployment rates than those recorded a year earlier.
Baton Rouge’s unadjusted unemployment rate was 5.7 percent; New Orleans, 6.1 percent; Monroe and Alexandria, both 6.7 percent; Shreveport-Bossier City, 6.5 percent; Lafayette, 4.6 percent; and Lake Charles, 5.3 percent.
Houma-Thibodaux was the metro with the state’s lowest unemployment rate in December — 4.2 percent. Even that was an increase of 1.2 percentage points over the same month in 2013.
The unadjusted numbers released Friday showed Louisiana’s December unemployment rate was 6.2 percent, an increase of 1.5 percentage points over the year.
Eysink has said for months that Louisiana’s unemployment rate is increasing because more people are entering the workforce in an effort to snag positions in what is one of the state’s largest industrial expansions in decades.
At LSU, Barnes agreed with Eysink.
“The thing that’s really remarkable is Louisiana’s labor force has grown at a much higher pace than the nation’s,” the economics professor said. “Employment is rising at the same time that the number of unemployed people is rising. The fact that employment has continued to grow is the more important factor to watch.”
Over the past year, Barnes said, Louisiana’s labor force grew at a pace that was four times higher than the nation’s.
As word of that growth circulated throughout the state and across the country, Barnes added, more people have jumped into the state’s labor market.
He said some of those unemployed people possibly had given up and dropped out of the market for one or more years. Others may have moved to Louisiana from other states. A few retirees also may have decided to attempt the resumption of their careers, he said.
Absent Louisiana’s remarkable growth in available jobs, Barnes said, “Our employment rate actually would have declined over the past year.”
Even with some job losses from the decline in crude oil prices, Louisiana should be able to continue its growth at a slightly slower pace, he said.
“We have positive news during this period of rising unemployment,” Barnes said. “I still look at this as a good thing.”