Report says New Orleans’ job growth occurring in low-paying jobs

While metro New Orleans has added tens of thousands of jobs in recent years, a majority of the positions offer wages at or below the area’s average.

A report compiled and released late Wednesday by The Data Center and Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program found that four out of every 10 new jobs were in hospitality, retail or administrative services, sectors that historically are among the area’s lowest-paying. Alternatively, higher-paying fields, like energy and manufacturing, saw little to no job gains.

“Though this pattern of job growth has contributed to the metro area’s falling unemployment rate, it has not raised the incomes of workers,” the report says.

The report recommended that local leaders align economic development initiatives with workforce training and technical education programs in an effort to connect low- and mid-skilled workers with new, better-paying opportunities.

Developing strategies that would push employers to invest in job training for employees to move up to higher-skilled jobs also would help, the report says. Groups that specialize in programs that target the working poor — like financial counseling services — could also shepherd them into job-training courses and employment counseling, the report suggested.

In 2013, the federal poverty threshold for a family of four was $23,545 per year. But the report estimates that the same size family would need to earn $44,491 annually in the New Orleans area in order to get by.

“Based on these estimates of the local cost of living, twice as many metro New Orleans residents live in families that struggle to make ends meet as live in poverty. And this share has been growing,” the report says.

Despite job gains, many of the area’s latest openings were in low-paying fields, which reduced local families’ earnings and pushed the area’s median household income below pre-Hurricane Katrina levels.

The report estimates that the metro area’s job market had 184,000 “good” jobs in 2014, meaning that the positions offered steady, full-time work without requiring a four-year college degree. Those jobs, which accounted for about one-third of the area’s total, grew by 2.2 percent from 2010 to 2014, while other jobs climbed by 6.1 percent. The positions range from machinists to butchers, police dispatchers and mail carriers.

“The typical wages of those working-age adults in struggling families who are employed full-time year-round may also reflect low incentives to work: These individuals earned an average of just $21,775 in 2013, or about $10.40 an hour,” the report says.

Employment sectors like transportation and distribution were among local fields that offered the largest number of good jobs, the report found. The positions include operations managers, office supervisors, truck drivers and maintenance workers. The area’s energy and petrochemical sector ranked second, with 27,000 total jobs in 2014, of which 59 percent met the benchmark.

Overall, the report noted that the area’s 184,000 good jobs last year was not enough to satisfy the 274,000 working-age adults who earn less than a living wage, and won’t be enough even as the region is projected to add about 39,560 more jobs in the next five years.

“Though promising, this would not be enough openings to provide opportunities for better jobs to even a meaningful portion of the 161,000 working-age adults who were actively participating in the labor force in 2013 yet still struggled to make ends meet for their families,” the report says.

Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.

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