Workforce data shows areas of growth in the River Region

Published 8:10 am Wednesday, October 5, 2022

LAPLACE — Unemployment rates in Louisiana are at an all-time low in Louisiana at 3.5%. As the workforce rebounds, there is still much room for growth in the River Parishes.

According to Matt Wolfe, spokesperson for Greater New Orleans Inc., the preliminary non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in the River Region was 4.5% as of August 2022. While this is still considered low, it is not a record low rate for the region; in April 2019, the regional unemployment rate was 3.9%.

GNO Inc. identified St. Charles Parish as having the lowest unemployment rate out of the tri-parishes at 3.2%, followed by St. James at 5.2% and St. John the Baptist at 5.7%. St. Charles Parish has maintained 10 straight months with unemployment below 4%.

“The numbers and feedback that we’re receiving seems to be in line with what most of the country is experiencing, that while we have seen a large number of professionals leave the workforce, that many others have been able to transition into new careers and job opportunities as a result,” Wolfe said.

According to Wolfe, the fastest-growing industries in the Greater New Orleans area over the past year have been construction, professional and business services, and leisure and hospitality, while the industries showing the greatest decline are information, government, and trade, transportation and utilities.

During a Tri-Parish Economic Development forum hosted by the River Region Chamber of Commerce in September, participants viewed data on job postings and top occupations by parish.

Commercial driver’s licenses and TWIC cards have been in demand across the region, according to 2021 job postings. Online job postings have increased since the COVID-19 pandemic and Hurricane Ida, indicating that local employers are actively seeking talent.

Heavy and tractor trailer truck drivers comprise the highest number of jobs in St. John Parish and the second-highest number of jobs in St. Charles and St. James parishes.

The top occupations across the River Parishes are dominated by blue collar jobs that do not require a four-year degree. Petroleum pump system operators are considered the most in-demand occupation in St. Charles Parish, while general and operations managers are most in-demand in St. James. Police and sheriff’s officers are among the top occupations in St. John and St. James, and St. John also has a growing need for aircraft structure, surfaces, rigging and systems assemblers.

Data from 2019 to 2021 from Emsi, an economic data and analytics advisor, indicates that the construction industry has grown by a whopping 70% in St. James Parish in the last two years, while wholesale trade has grown by 63%. In St. Charles Parish, the biggest increase was mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction at 58%, followed by finance and insurance at 30%.

Danaya Gathers, the River Region representative for Express Employment Professionals, is concerned that St. John Parish’s largest industry growth from 2019 to 2022 was in transportation and warehousing at only 7%.

“St. John Parish is not growing the way it should be, and that’s kind of scary. The largest decline in St. John Parish was the mining and gas extraction by 82%,” Gathers said. “The unemployment rate is low, but there’s a group of people who are of working age and not working.”

Some barriers to employment that Gathers has witnessed delve deeper into societal issues. She believes school systems are integral to community growth as families and business owners decide where to lay roots. She has also seen a trend of women being driven out of the workforce since the COVID-19 pandemic, when mothers were forced to choose between their jobs and attending to their children during extended periods of virtual learning.

“I’m trying to get to the root of the problem,” Gathers said. “Another trend has been that a lot of our associates don’t have transportation and can’t pass a drug test. That is a huge barrier that we are seeing a lot of in this region.”

According to Gathers, even individuals who are well-equipped for stable employment are considering different pathways as a generational divide takes hold in the workforce.

“Generation X and Baby Boomers were raised and taught differently to just go to work, and that’s it, whereas millennials and generation Z want more of a work-life balance. A lot of them are leaving the workforce and creating their own avenues,” she said. “We are searching for work with a purpose instead of just going to work. That’s where the disconnect is happening, and a lot of industries are suffering.”