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Workers remove a tree from a roof two weeks after Hurricane Laura in Lake Charles. After three hurricanes made landfall in Louisiana over the past few weeks efforts to recover may boost the state's otherwise bleak jobs market.

After three hurricanes made landfall in Louisiana over the past few weeks efforts to recover after the storms may boost the state's otherwise bleak jobs market.

October unemployment data won't be released until the end of November but early signs are showing some bump in jobs recovery after the storms, according to the Louisiana Workforce Commission. 

“What generally happens after natural disasters is an uptick in employment,” said Ava Dejoie, secretary of the Louisiana Workforce Commission. “We have started seeing the (job recovery) bumps in Lake Charles and new (October) numbers show that but when you have one storm after another it doesn't materialize as quickly." 

Hurricane Zeta made landfall in Louisiana just three weeks after Hurricane Delta and roughly nine weeks after Hurricane Laura. Combined, the storms were estimated to have caused more than $10 billion in damages. 

There were 120,000 existing unemployment claims across Louisiana as of Oct. 24, down significantly from its peak of 320,500 claims in early June. Food services and accommodation still leads job losses, with 24,000 in that sector still out of work, about half that figure is out of work in construction. New job losses dropped below 10,000 across the state as of late October down from its peak of 100,600 in mid-April. 

East Baton Rouge Parish and Orleans Parish have the highest number of unemployed residents, with 12,210 out of work and 13,298 jobless respectively. Jefferson Parish has another 11,666 jobless as of late October. 

The Lafayette metro area economy has benefitted from an influx of temporary residents who work in Lake Charles. In September, the Lafayette metro was the only region to add food and accommodation sector jobs over the year. That was driven by residents staying in hotels and other temporary housing while commuting to the region hit by hurricanes. 

There has been some growth in temporary construction jobs in Lake Charles as homeowners and petrochemical plants look to rebuild, Dejoie said.  

While initial unemployment claims were dominated by food services and accommodation job losses for months across Louisiana, for the past few weeks temporary construction jobs have led the initial claims likely from utility sector restoration work and building repairs after the storms. 

"Recent data suggests that the losses from the pandemic have certainly slowed and transitioned into more of a general recessionary pattern," said Stephen Barnes an economist at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Through September there had been more companies announcing layoffs, such as when Calcasieu Refining said it would lay off 69 employees by the end of the year at the latest and the Lake Charles Memorial Health System laid off hundreds after the storms.

In response, the workforce commission began tapping smaller outpatient clinics in the region as a job matchmakers so the workers could stay in the region and join the labor force once again. The state agency has been sending unemployed workers videos of potential employers to inspire them to apply for open jobs. 

Some industries where employers are hiring in Louisiana include transportation jobs such as truck drivers, delivery services and construction projects tied to post-disaster clean-up efforts. 

Meanwhile, the Louisiana Workforce Commission has borrowed at least $98 million from the federal government to pay for unemployment benefits and won't begin accruing interest until January 2021.

The proposed increased tax burden on businesses to revive the unemployment fund is delayed until at least September 2021 when the state would start repaying the federal loan with less than 5% interest. 

Likewise, the incumbent worker training program, which reimburses mid-size employers for investing in workers, was not removed as previously proposed.

Still, tourism, which is a major economic driver in New Orleans, Lafayette and Baton Rouge, Lafayette is still being affected. 

"Getting people back into the hospitality industry is still very much dependent upon the country's recovery from COVID," Dejoie said. "People just aren't traveling. You can't look at jobs outside of the impact of the virus." 

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Email Kristen Mosbrucker at kmosbrucker@theadvocate.com.