Louisianians with jobs top 2 million

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Construction at the Methanex methanol plant site in Geismar in 2013 reflects the industrial expansion taking place in the Baton Rouge-to-New Orleans corridor along the Mississippi River. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Construction at the Methanex methanol plant site in Geismar in 2013 reflects the industrial expansion taking place in the Baton Rouge-to-New Orleans corridor along the Mississippi River.

More than 2 million Louisianians say they have a job, an all-time high.

Civilian employment hit a new peak for the sixth month in a row in March, as the state’s unemployment rate held steady from February at 4.5 percent. That tied for the seventh-lowest jobless rate in the nation.

“Because of all we have done to make Louisiana a great place to do business, we have now set another record for the number of people working, exceeding 2 million workers for the first time in Louisiana history,” Gov. Bobby Jindal said in a statement.

“That’s even more significant when you consider that many announced major projects that will drive employment for years have not yet begun construction,” said Curt Eysink, executive director of the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

Employment figures — adjusted to cancel out normal seasonal changes — were released Friday by the U.S. Labor Department.

Although economists place more emphasis on nonfarm jobs because of better data, having total civilian employment top 2 million is “a big deal,” economist Loren Scott said.

“We’ve never had that happen. Every time we got close, something bad happened like (hurricanes) Katrina and Rita or the Great Recession,” Scott said.

Looking only at Louisiana’s nonfarm payrolls, the number of employed rose to 1.95 million people in March, up 900 from February and 10,900 higher than a year ago. However, that’s down 9,000 from the record-high level seen in October. Louisiana has seen four years of strong nonfarm job growth, rising 4.3 percent during that time, outstripping the number of jobs lost during the recession. Louisiana’s unemployment rate was 6.4 percent in March 2013.

The state has been setting monthly employment records since January 2013. Not many states have more people working now than in 2008, when the Great Recession struck, Scott said.

Scott tracks economic data for nine other states stretching east and north of Louisiana. Most of those states have yet to recover half the jobs they lost.

“Not only are they down, they are way down,” Scott said.

In addition, none of those states are seeing anything close to the sort of industrial expansions or new projects being announced in Louisiana.

“Our state is going really well,” Scott said.

Private-sector employers added 17,300 jobs in Louisiana over the year, the 42nd consecutive month of over-the-year gains. Government employment in March — comprised of federal, state and local jobs — was down 6,400 jobs to 336,000, its lowest point since July 1993.

In the private sector, leisure and hospitality had the biggest job gain, adding 8,400 jobs over the year, followed by construction with 3,600, and education and health services at 3,100. The only employment sectors other than government with over-the-year declines were information, down 3,300, and manufacturing, down 600.

Donald R. Andrews, dean of Southern University’s College of Business, said the Louisiana jobs numbers are good news for the state and reflect the “magnificent job” the Federal Reserve has done.

Combining low interest rates with quantitative easing, or buying securities from the market, moved the national economy from the brink of depression to full recovery, Andrews said. However, the jobs numbers and unemployment rate do not reflect the full picture.

Louisiana’s employment-to-population ratio could be higher. In 2011, the U.S. ratio was 58.4 percent while Louisiana’s was 54.9 percent. Only seven states were lower.

Andrews said Louisiana workers should be aware of the skills they need in the second machine age, where a college education is a major requirement.

The number of unemployed Louisianians remained below 100,000, falling to 93,500 in March. That’s the lowest level since July 2008, and down from 95,000 in February and 134,700 in March 2013.

Rhode Island had the nation’s worst jobless rate, at 8.7 percent, while North Dakota retained the lowest jobless rate at 2.4 percent. Unemployment rates fell in 21 states, rose in 17 and were flat in 12.

The national unemployment rate was flat from February to March at 6.7 percent, but below the 7.5 percent level of March 2013.

The BLS uses a survey of 750 households to estimate the civilian labor force and unemployment rate. The civilian labor force — the total number of employed and unemployed — was 2,095,985 in March, a decline of 6,078 over the year and an increase of 2,350 from February.

The BLS uses a separate survey of 6,000 employers statewide and across industries to calculate nonfarm employment and employment levels within industry sectors.

The broadest measure of those who are unemployed averaged 12.7 percent in Louisiana during 2013, the most recent figures available. That rate includes not only those counted as jobless in the standard survey, but also people who are looking for work only sporadically, have given up looking, or are working part time because they can’t find a full-time job.

Nationwide, that broad measure averaged 13.8 percent during the same time.

Advocate business writer Ted Griggs and Associated Press writer Jeff Amy contributed to this report.