By William Patrick | The Center Square
Louisiana’s jobless claims are trending down, as unemployment rates fell in all parishes for the fifth consecutive month when compared with the same months last year.
The state’s 4.9% unemployment rate also is significantly improved since last year’s corresponding 8.2% rate. It now stands at nearly one-third of the 14.5% unemployment rate in April 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the most-recent data available from the Louisiana Workforce Commission, newly filed weekly unemployment claims have steadily fallen since the pandemic began last year and after claims surged two months ago after Hurricane Ida.
Two weeks after the category 4 storm hit southeast Louisiana on Aug. 29, LWC recorded 13,782 new unemployment claims. As of Oct. 23, new claims dropped to 1,826.
Continuing claims, or those that are ongoing rather than newly filed, dropped to 26,314 claims by Oct. 23. At the same time last year, LWC recorded 128,378 continuing claims.
Conversely, over roughly the same one-year period, the data shows an increase of nearly 31,500 employed individuals, bringing Louisiana’s total number of workers to 1,919,425 by Sept. 30.
The total jobs figure is close to the state’s almost 2 million employed workers immediately before the government-induced pandemic lockdowns and business closures in spring 2020. By the end of April 2020, nearly 300,000 workers had lost their jobs.
While the LWC data shows encouraging signs of economic recovery, related information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates Louisiana’s civilian labor force has yet to return to its pre-pandemic level.
According to BLS, about 90,000 people have dropped out of the state’s workforce since March 2020, which has likely affected the state unemployment rate.
In September, the Pelican Institute, a New Orleans-based think tank, noted the state’s shrinking workforce was distorting jobs data.
“For every 10 people returning to work in Louisiana, seven have left the labor market,” Eric Peterson, a policy director at Pelican, said at the time.
Economists partially have attributed declining workforce participation to trillion-dollar COVID-19 stimulus packages and generous government relief programs, saying they have eroded work incentives for many would-be employees.
A September analysis by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University explored 13 academic studies examining the effects of increased unemployment benefits since March 2020. All 13 studies determined they contributed to longer periods of unemployment.
According to LWC, the lowest period of new unemployment claims since the pandemic erupted occurred when Gov. John Bel Edwards ended federal unemployment aid in August, when only 1,712 new claims were recorded.