By The Way, Louisiana’s Economy Seems To Be Sliding Again

In case you missed this fun little factoid on Friday, Louisiana’s unemployment rate is rising, not falling. It’s the state’s economy that’s falling.

Louisiana’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for December 2019 rose to 4.9%, ranking it fifth highest among all states and Washington, D.C., according to the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Alaska had the highest unemployment at 6.1%, followed by Mississippi (5.7), Washington, D.C., (5.3%), and West Virginia (5%).

The national unemployment rate was 3.5%. The lowest unemployment rate was reported in South Carolina, Utah and Vermont, all at 2.3%.

Louisiana’s December rate rose from 4.7% the month before, and 4.5% in October 2019—but was consistent with the 4.9% rate reported in December 2018. Louisiana and Pennsylvania had the largest month-to-month rate increases, at 0.2 percentage points each.

The state’s civilian labor force also grew by roughly 3,300 people, reaching roughly 2.1 million, between November and December.

What brought this on? Well, as we’ve discussed often here at the site and particularly last year when voters had an opportunity to act on an understanding of the problem, a big part of this is the fact the construction industry is tanking.

Louisiana has lost 7,000 construction jobs over the past 12 months, according to seasonally adjusted data released today by the Associated General Contractors of America, reflecting a 4.8% decline in construction employment throughout 2019.

The steep jobs decline caused Louisiana to rank 48th among all states and Washington, D.C., in terms of construction employment over the 12-month period, with the state outperforming only Connecticut (-5.5%), West Virginia (-7.2%) and Wyoming (-9.5%).

Additionally, the 7,000 jobs lost was second highest in the country, after Ohio, which lost 9,000. Overall, Louisiana was among 16 states to lose construction jobs in 2019.

The state lost some 11,000 construction jobs the year before.

Why? Because Louisiana had a huge runup in construction activity during the Jindal years, in which the state’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program was leveraged by its economic development arm to reel in major industrial construction projects in numerous places across the Sportsman’s Paradise, but particularly along the Mississippi between Baton Rouge and New Orleans and in the Lake Charles area.

But when John Bel Edwards took office one of the first things he did was to let clownish local politicians have a say in the ITEP discussions, and when he did that the major international concerns considering further industrial development projects in the state re-evaluated whether Louisiana was a good investment and decided they’d be better off elsewhere. So Texas picked up those investments and we did not.

And when the Jindal-era construction projects finished and that expansion wound down, there was nothing to replace it.

Those construction jobs going away have keyed a rise in unemployment in Louisiana, but that won’t last. It won’t last because the people made unemployed when their jobs went away will go away themselves. They’ll move to where the jobs are.

And when they do, John Bel Edwards will crow about how the state’s economy is doing great because the unemployment rate is down, like he did last year during the gubernatorial election he would surely have lost if he’d run against a competent campaign.

But while Edwards will never admit a mistake, he’s also quietly reversing course on his stupid ITEP decision. Did you see this?

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration is pushing back against certain local rules for the state’s largest tax incentive program, in an effort to make it easier for companies to win tax breaks for work that has already started or been completed.

The new tweaks of the state’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program center around the role local governments play in handling the tax break, which exempts manufacturing companies from paying property taxes that would otherwise go to local budgets.

For months, including during a heated reelection campaign last fall, Edwards has alluded to “process changes” his administration plans to make to the Industrial Tax Exemption Program.

Matthew Block, the governor’s general counsel, said in an interview those changes include an effort to prevent local governments from instituting blanket bans on exemptions for projects that are already completed or under construction. That has been a goal of business groups that have sought changes to the program since Edwards overhauled it in 2016.

“There might be some very good and legitimate reasons where an application would not have been submitted until work has already been completed or work has already been started,” Block said.

Among the local governments that have adopted guidelines that prohibit such awards include those in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, two areas that played key roles in delivering Edwards a reelection victory as the only Democratic governor in the Deep South.

The issue of ITEP incentives for projects “already begun” was a major player in the controversy over an ITEP denial to a multimillion-dollar project ExxonMobil sought an incentive for in Baton Rouge, and subsequently Louisiana lost out on billions of dollars in potential industrial expansion to Texas. Now that he’s won re-election Edwards is turning his back on the teachers’ unions and Together Louisiana, two special interest groups who demanded that he monkey around with industrial tax incentives in the first place. Neither one of those groups knows a damn thing about running a successful economy, of course – but they do know how to turn out voters. So they get what they want until Edwards gets re-elected, then they get to go sit in the corner.

Why is that? Because for all the bragging Edwards has done about how terrific the state’s economy is, privately his people know he’s an emperor with no clothes, and whatever political future he might have (which doesn’t have to involve a presidential run in 2024, as implausible as that might sound; it might also involve Edwards challenging John Kennedy for the Senate in 2022) would be forfeit to a widespread public perception that he’s destroyed Louisiana’s economy.

Which he has, and will do everything he can to escape blame for.

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