New Orleans fared better than any other metro area in the U.S. in recovering from the recession during the second quarter of 2012, according to a report released Tuesday by the Brookings Institute. That same report put Baton Rouge in the middle of the pack in terms of the comeback, coming in 49th out of the 100 largest cities.
This is the second quarter in a row New Orleans was the top-performing metro area in the Brookings MetroMonitor report, which measures factors such as unemployment, home prices and output, measured against a city’s lowest economic point. Unlike most other U.S. metros, which bottomed out during the recession in 2009, the low point for the Crescent City economy came after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The massive ongoing hurricane recovery and rebuilding efforts provided a boost to the city during the national recession.
But economist Loren Scott said he’s suspicious of the New Orleans numbers, which he doesn’t think are accurate. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, metro New Orleans had 8,700 more jobs in February than in the previous year. But by July, the year-to-year numbers showed the city had lost 3,000 jobs when compared with 2011 — a swing of nearly 12,000 jobs in five months. This comes at a time when there haven’t been any major unemployment swings in the city, other than continued layoffs at Avondale shipyards, which Scott says affected about 1,500 people.
“They’re not rocking and rolling and adding 8,700 jobs in New Orleans, but they aren’t dropping like a stone,” Scott said. “We’ve been complaining about this since the BLS took over the numbers about a year ago.”
Scott said New Orleans is set to see a big plunge in its MetroMonitor ranking in the third quarter, based on the declining job numbers. He cites the problem on the BLS basing their figures on too small of a sample.
Baton Rouge is holding fairly steady in its recovery, as the continued loss of state government jobs is offset by employment increases in the chemical and industrial construction industries. Low natural gas prices are stimulating that growth.
Scott noted that East Baton Rouge Parish sales tax collections are 8.7 percent higher through the first six months of 2012 compared to the same period in 2011. “Manufacturing sales tax collections are up even more, about 25 percent,” he said. “Those are hard numbers.”
Alec Friedhoff, a data manager and research analyst in the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, said in a statement that metro areas mostly saw a slowdown in the rate of recovery, after relatively fast first-quarter growth.
“In the race to recovery, metro areas are running at slow speeds with some tripping along the way,” he said.
Metro areas that depend upon natural gas for employment, like Houston, which ranked second, and Dallas, fared well, along with high-tech regions in the Mountain West, like Boise, Idaho, and manufacturing centers, such as Detroit. The weakest-performing regions were metro areas with significant public-sector employment, such as Virginia Beach, Va., which was 100th, Harrisburg, Pa., and Little Rock, Ark.