La. employment near pre-Katrina record

Louisiana’s total nonfarm employment grew by 5,600 jobs in the 12 months ending May to a total of 1,950,300 jobs — just 600 jobs off the state’s record high set in July 2005, the month before Hurricane Katrina hit.

Federal figures released Friday show the gains happened even though the total number of government workers dropped by 5,800 over the year ending in May. The number of state government employees was 101,100, the lowest number since August 1991.

A survey of Louisiana employers by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found the state’s private employers continued to add jobs for the 33rd consecutive month.

“Louisiana businesses are hiring, and those new jobs are more than enough to make up for any losses, particularly in the government sector,” said Curt Eysink, executive director of the Louisiana Workforce Commission. “There are plenty of opportunities for those willing to work or pursue training to qualify for high-demand, well-paying jobs that are out there.”

Louisiana’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in May was 6.8 percent, unchanged from a year ago but up from 6.4 percent in April.

Despite the increase, Louisiana unemployment remained well below the Southern average of 7.2 percent in May and the national average of 7.6 percent. Both the Southern and national averages increased by 0.1 percent from April.

The number of unemployed Louisiana residents was 143,335 in May, an increase of 2,226 over May 2012, and an increase of 8,455 from April.

Louisiana’s labor force, which includes people who are working or looking for work, was nearly 2.1 million in May, the fourth-highest total in state history. The record of 2.11 million was set in September 2005. The number of people working in the state was nearly 1.96 million during May.

The unemployment rate is calculated by a survey that asks how many people are looking for a job.

A second survey each month asks employers how many people are on their payrolls, a measure that many economists look to as their top labor market indicator.

Unemployment rates fell in half of U.S. states last month, led by drops in California, West Virginia, New York and Hawaii. The Labor Department said Friday that unemployment rates rose in 17 states, including Louisiana, and were unchanged in eight.

California and West Virginia had the largest declines in unemployment among all states. In California, the rate dropped to 8.6 percent from 9 percent in April.

West Virginia’s rate fell to 6.2 percent in May from 6.6 percent.

North Dakota had the nation’s lowest unemployment rate at 3.2 percent.

Nevada had the highest at 9.5 percent. It was followed by Illinois and Mississippi, each at 9.1 percent.

Nationally, the economy added 175,000 jobs in May, nearly matching the average monthly gain for the past year.

Federal officials now expect the unemployment rate to fall as low 7.2 percent this year and between 6.5 percent and 6.8 percent by the end of 2014.

Separately, first-time claims for unemployment insurance in Louisiana for the week ending June 15 decreased from the previous week.

The state labor department figures released Friday show the initial claims decreased to 2,915 from 3,755 for the week ending June 8. For the comparable week a year earlier, there were 3,806 initial claims.

The four-week moving average, which is a less volatile measure of claims, increased to 3,341 from the previous week’s total of 3,296.

Continued unemployment claims for the week ending June 15 increased to 24,447 compared with 23,629 the previous week.

The four-week moving average for such claims increased to 23,193 from the previous week’s average of 22,265.