Louisiana drops 11,500 jobs: Baton Rouge, Lake Charles only metros to add jobs as oil plunge takes its toll

The energy industry’s hemorrhaging of jobs is taking a toll on Louisiana. Lafayette and Houma-Thibodaux rank nationally in the top three metro areas suffering job losses over the past 12 months.

Of the country’s 51 metro areas with a population of 1 million or more, only New Orleans lost jobs — down 1,700 over the year.

Baton Rouge and Lake Charles were the only two of the state’s nine metro areas to gain jobs in November, both setting records.

Overall, Louisiana dropped 11,500 nonfarm jobs over the 12 months ending Nov. 30, according to preliminary figures from the Louisiana Workforce Commission that aren’t adjusted for seasonal factors.

“I look at the numbers and they are really disheartening. You’re really seeing the impact of lower oil prices on the state’s economy,” said economist Loren Scott. “It’s just really hammering us especially hard in the oil patch, in Lafayette and Houma, but also it’s drifting into Shreveport and New Orleans.”

The Lafayette area clocked the biggest job loss nationally, 5,100, among the United States’ metro areas, and Houma-Thibodaux ranked third-most nationally with 2,800 lost over the 12-month period, according to estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Statewide, the mining and logging sector, which includes oil and gas, plummeted by 10,100 jobs, or 19 percent of total employment. In the Lafayette area, the sector dropped 2,600 jobs, or 11.4 percent. The Houma-Thibodaux area lost 1,200 jobs, or 17.1 percent of the sector’s total employment. In New Orleans, the sector dropped 1,200 jobs, and in Shreveport, 800, both about 15 percent of their mining and logging jobs.

Louisiana Workforce Commission Executive Director Curt Eysink said the coastal parishes, which rely more heavily on the oil and gas industry, “have taken a blow.”

The Baton Rouge area added 9,100 jobs to reach a record 412,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Lake Charles added 4,000 jobs to reach a record 104,500.

Both areas have been buoyed by massive industrial projects, including billions spent on methanol and fertilizer plants and ethane crackers. Methanol and ethane are used in making a variety of plastics and other goods. Many of the plants feed off the plentiful, cheap natural gas as a raw material and fuel source.

November marked the 59th consecutive month of job gains for the Baton Rouge area, the Louisiana Workforce Commission said. The area added 6,100 professional and business services jobs and 5,300 construction jobs, but lost 1,200 government jobs.

The state has been divided in two, Scott said. The Baton Rouge and Lake Charles area, whose economies are growing thanks to large chemical and petrochemical projects and liquefied natural gas export facilities, and everywhere else.

Nonfarm employment in New Orleans fell by 1,700 jobs to an estimated 566,800. The New Orleans area has lost jobs in seven of the past nine months, the Louisiana Workforce Commission said. The big gainers over the year were leisure and hospitality, 3,900 jobs, and education and health services, 2,600 jobs. The New Orleans area lost 2,000 government jobs, 1,900 of them in state government.

Scott said while the oil patch’s situation appears dire, in the past energy prices have always recovered and will do so again.

Louisiana may be on the downside of the price cycle, but the state can look forward to the upside, he said.

Job losses for the other metro areas were 1,000 jobs to 78,000 in Monroe; 800 to 63,600 in Alexandria; and 2,000 to 182,500 in Shreveport-Bossier. Hammond was unchanged at 45,000 nonfarm jobs.

Meanwhile, the number of people in the state’s civilian workforce, those employed or looking for work, dropped by 64,241, or 2.9 percent, to 2,138,353, the commission said. The state’s jobless rate dropped to 5.9 percent in November, compared with 6.8 percent a year ago. Rates can go down if those looking for work give up and are no longer counted as unemployed.

Unemployment rates over the 12-month period rose in Lafayette, to 6.3 percent from 5.8 percent, and in Houma-Thibodaux, to 5.6 percent from 5.4 percent.

Unemployment rates dropped in the other seven metro areas: Alexandria, to 6.0 percent from 7.1 percent; Baton Rouge, to 4.9 percent from 6.1 percent; Hammond, to 6.5 percent from 7.7 percent; Lake Charles, to 4.8 percent from 6.1 percent; Monroe, to 6.1 percent from 7.4 percent; New Orleans, to 5.6 percent from 6.8 percent; and Shreveport-Bossier, to 6.4 percent from 7.6 percent.

Follow Ted Griggs on Twitter, @tedgriggsbr

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