Jobs picture brightens in La. in February

Louisiana’s unemployment rate fell to 4.5 percent in February, hitting the lowest level since July 2008, as the state added 10,000 nonfarm jobs from a year earlier.

Louisiana’s nonfarm payrolls rose to 1.96 million people in February. Louisiana has seen three years of strong employment growth, with the job count rising more than 4 percent during that time, outstripping the number of jobs lost during the recession.

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

Employment sectors with gains in February include financial activities; professional and business services; education and health services; and leisure and hospitality. Employment fell in construction; manufacturing and trade; transportation; and utilities. Government employment was flat.

Louisiana’s unemployment rate was 4.9 percent in January and 6.4 percent in February 2013.

The national unemployment rate rose to 6.7 percent in February from 6.6 percent in January. It was below the 7.7 percent level of February 2013.

Total unemployed Louisianians fell below 100,000 — for the first time since August 2008 — hitting 95,000 in February. That’s down from almost 103,000 in January and 134,000 in February 2013.

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 many economists use as their top labor market indicator.

Rhode Island again had the worst jobless rate among the states at 9 percent, while North Dakota was again lowest at 2.6 percent. Unemployment rates fell in 29 states, were flat in 11 states and rose in 10. The Labor Department said Friday that payroll employment rose in 33 states and fell in 17 states.

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.

In a separate report released Friday by the Louisiana Workforce Commission, first-time claims for unemployment insurance in Louisiana for the week ending March 22 decreased from the previous week’s total.

Initial claims fell to 2,131 from the previous week’s total of 2,232. There were 2,057 initial claims during the comparable week in 2013.

The four-week moving average, which is a less volatile measure of claims, increased to 2,086 from the previous week’s average of 2,045.

Continued unemployment weeks claimed for the week ending March 22 decreased to 19,639 compared to 19,964 the previous week. The four-week moving average for such claims decreased to 20,326 from the previous week’s average of 20,875.