St. James Parish battling double-digit joblessness

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 25, 2001


CONVENT – Among the various areas of Louisiana, St. James Parish is almost alone in having a double-digit unemployment rate. The March 23 issue of the Louisiana Labor Market Information newsletter, published by the Louisiana Department of Labor, provided a revised unemployment rate for St. James Parish of 16.5 percent for the month of January, and a preliminary unemployment rate for February of 12.8 percent. The unemployment rate for February a year ago, in comparison, was 10.2 percent. The St. James Parish Council received this and other information on unemployment at its most recent meeting on April 18. At the request of Parish President Dale J. Hymel Jr., Kevin Belanger of South Central Planning and Development spoke with the council about a process for developing a “sudden and severe economic dislocation adjustment strategy.” The U.S. Department of Commerce, Belanger said, provides funds through the Economic Development Administration to help areas with distressed communities discover and address the causes of unemployment. “We are a distressed community,” Hymel indicated, “and before we can determine where we need to go, we need to know where we have been.” Belanger proposed to assist the council with an application for funding and in conducting an in-depth study. “We can prove that St. James Parish is a distressed community,” Belanger said. He said there is cause for optimism the grant could be obtained. “If you don’t like the picture you’re looking at, stand back, step aside, and take another view,” he added. An appropriate plan, according to Belanger, should focus on specific needs of unemployed workers rather than broader economic development needs. It should also specify objectives in measurable terms and include target dates. The council discussed the challenges of economic diversification. According to Belanger, statistics show that unemployment is cyclical, affected by such things as weather and time of year, because the parish is a heavily-agricultural area. A summary of statistics provided by Belanger on other parishes’ civilian labor force showed that last year’s unemployment rate fluctuated between a high of 14.1 percent in June and a low of 8.3 percent in April. In other business, the council: Affirmed Hymel’s action in proclaiming April as Flood Awareness Month. Requested the state Department of Transportation and Development add a third lane on La. Highway 3125. Authorized advertisement and receiving of bids for a new trencher for St. James Parish Utilities.