Baton Rouge, LA — State officials celebrated the latest jobs numbers Monday, even though Louisiana's unemployment rate rose by 1.7 percent.
The state unemployment rate was 5.5 percent in December, but 7.2 percent in January, using figures that were not seasonally adjusted.
The unemployment rate for the greater Baton Rouge area increased by the same amount, from 5.3 to 7.0 percent.
On a seasonally adjusted basis, the state figure rose only slightly, from 5.6 to 5.9 percent.
"We always see a little bit of (an increase) from December to January," stated Tom Guarisco of the Louisiana Workforce Commission. "It's a seasonal drop; we expect that from the holidays, and schools being out."
Instead of looking at the unemployment rate, Guarisco claimed that the number of people with jobs is a more accurate assessment of the local economy.
"And our civilian labor force is as big as it's been since 2005," he said.
Year-to-year changes are better comparisons, and provide for more reliable trends, than month-to-month changes. The statewide unemployment rate was 1.1 points better in January 2013 than in January 2012.
Critics say that improvements in the unemployment rate are often caused by discouraged workers dropping out of the labor pool. Guarisco claimed that is not the case in Louisiana.
"There are so many opportunities right now that a lot of workers are coming back into the workforce," he said.
Since January 2012, companies created 9,000 new jobs around the capitol region.
"Private sector employers, which are really the engine of the economy, have been steadily growing and adding new positions," Guarisco said.
Every industry is important, but construction is watched more closely than the rest, because it is known to be a leading indicator for the economy as a whole. Baton Rouge has a higher percentage of construction workers than the national average, and the nine-parish area saw a 14.6 percent increase in construction jobs.
"There's going to be even more (growth) in the coming year or two because that kind of activity, construction activity, will typically trigger growth in other sectors," Guarisco said.
To help job-seekers, the LWC says it has created new, online tools such as HiRE and Louisiana Star Jobs to help people find jobs that match their skills, or receive training to get better jobs, because the long-term trends are pointing in the right direction.
"We see an amazing demand is going to be put on our workforce in the next three years," Guarisco said. "And frankly, this agency is gearing up to deliver more services than we ever have. So it's a good problem to have."
Looking to the immediate future, February’s national jobs report has already been released.
Two of the top-performing industries in February were key pieces of the Baton Rouge economy. The construction sector added 48,000 jobs nationwide, while the film and music recording industry added 21,000.
To read the full report, click on the attachment below.