Louisiana has the lowest unemployment rate in a decade.
Louisiana has the highest unemployment rate in the country.
Both can be true. But guess which one is brought up by Gov. John Bel Edwards as he seeks re-election, and which is brought up by his Republican challengers in the October primary.
How to sort out the truth?
In most of the states of the Union, campaign season does not really crank up until Labor Day. In Louisiana, Huey P. Long called politics the sport of kings. Practically, campaign season starts in earnest after Carnival, and part of our Lenten obligations in 2019 will be listening to competing visions not of the future, but how the candidates see the here-and-now.
In a word, differently.
In his announcement, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-Alto, said Louisiana can do better: "Louisiana deserves better than what she currently has," Abraham told the USA Today Network. "I'm seeing businesses leaving and a governor who has been focused on raising taxes. I intend to do something about that."
Similar messages are coming from Eddie Rispone, the Baton Rouge businessman who has also announced against Edwards.
In 2017, Louisiana had the dubious distinction of seeing its economy shrink, alone among the states, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. But on Tuesday, Edwards crowed about record economic productivity. At $252 billion in the third quarter of 2018, GDP is the highest on record, the BEA reported. But it is still slower growth than most states.
While more than 2 million Louisianians are working, a closely watched milestone, not all parts of the state are prosperous.
For Edwards, but also for his critics wanting to blame any and all bad numbers on the incumbent, it is unfortunate that Louisiana remains an oil-and-gas state.
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That means when oil prices crashed almost five years ago, employment was hurt so badly in the energy-producing parts of the state that it overshadowed growth elsewhere, including in relatively prosperous cities like Baton Rouge and New Orleans. That was, by the way, during a Republican administration in the State Capitol.
Nor has the governor wasted any time in pointing to a problem arising from the Trump administration, of which Abraham is an enthusiast in the U.S. House.
“We remain concerned about the impacts of tariffs on our economy and hope that our farmers and agribusinesses will see some relief soon,” Edwards said.
For Abraham, who represents a rural area, lock-step support of Donald Trump’s tariff wars makes him vulnerable to criticism.
However, as there was some good news out of talks between China and U.S. trade representatives, including a douceur of Chinese purchases of some soybeans, maybe those issues will recede by the time the Oct. 12 primary comes along.
There is the political problem that afflicts both the governor and his challengers: Maybe people can be confused by the conflicting numbers, but in most circumstances economic reality changes quite slowly.
Oil and gas crashes are a feature of an energy economy, and in late 2014 that economic reality changed very fast and much to Louisiana’s disadvantage.
The gradual improvement in Acadiana’s economy, for example, is a very slow response to the crash. That means that significant numbers of people either moved out or are working at lower wages than when oilfield services were blowing and going.
Amid the dueling statistics in the campaign, there is the reality of many homes where the question is about whether one family is better off, rather than the state as a whole.
Email Lanny Keller at firstname.lastname@example.org.