Jobless rates finally falling in River Region

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 30, 2006



LAPLACE — The numbers about the employment situation for Southeast Louisiana tell the whole story.

The week of Aug. 22, just before Hurricane Katrina hit, there were 837 people receiving unemployment benefits through the River Region office.

Almost a month after the storm during the week of Sept. 24, that number rose to a whopping 13,211.

And now five months later, that number is still far above normal at 5,105.

Mary Lynn Alltmont, manager for the Department of Labor’s Workforce Development office here in St. John Parish, knows as much as anyone about the current employment situation.

While it is easy to understand why many are out of work considering the devastation to the New Orleans area, the mystery to others is why there seems to be so many &#8220Help Wanted” signs everywhere you look.

Why don’t all those unemployed people just take some of the many jobs being advertised?

&#8220It’s just not that simplistic,” Alltmont said. &#8220I understand many people wondering about that. We see an amazing number of employers looking for workers, and offering higher wages and even bonuses. When you see fast food restaurants offering $8 an hour, and thousands of dollars in bonus money, you know something unusual is going on.”

Alltmont said that the website, which ties to for job seekers, currently has over 200 employers listed, offering a multitude of jobs. That listing usually is only around 100, she said.

But the problem of connecting these two pools isn’t as easy as the casual observer might think.

&#8220The demographics of employment have switched. We have people who are begging us to find them jobs, but the problem is that you can’t take a banquet manager and put him to work at Home Depot,” she said. &#8220Matching the qualifications to the job has taken a lot more time than we had hoped.”

Alltmont said that the state of Louisiana doesn’t even have parish-by-parish unemployment numbers currently, since so many people are living outside their normal residence. Therefore, there is now a Greater New Orleans Region unemployment number, which most recently was at 17.5.

That compares to a 7.1 rate in August, 2005 just before the hurricane.

But even with the huge pool of workers, and a large number of jobs, Alltmont said it is taking a lot of time to connect the two.

&#8220Every person that comes into our office does not leave without a referral to some kind of job,” she explained. &#8220And we have also seen there are a lot of people who are hoping to get their old jobs back in New Orleans, and because of that, they are not seeking new jobs.”

However the numbers on the unemployment list are dropping, she noted, and she believes June should be the time when a real change occurs. That is the time the state currently expects to end extended benefits for unemployment. While Alltmont said most people really do want to work, she acknowledged there is always a percentage of people who are just happy to get the free check as long as they can.

&#8220There is always the human nature for some to take the benefits and not work as long as they can,” she said. &#8220And certainly we know that is going on to some extent. But I can tell you that is not the majority. Most people want their lives back, and their life as it was before. You won’t get that by getting an unemployment check.”

She said the situation could also be more rapidly improved as employers accept the change in the employment situation.

&#8220Katrina did what no individual could do in terms of raising wages,” she said. &#8220So employers have to accept the fact that for now they have to pay higher wages, and at times, have a lower criteria of experience for who they might hire.”

The Louisiana Works office is available to help with all facets of employment for those seeking work or benefits. It is located on Cambridge Drive, just behind the Cambridge Shopping Center. For more information, call 652-3471.