ULL Economist: Louisiana’s Economy Won’t Recover Until 2022

This probably isn’t a surprise to anyone – what’s more of a surprise is how little any of our elected officials seem to care. But the state’s economy is going to be lingering in a depressed state and won’t assume its pre-COVID temperature, which by the way was pretty terrible in its own right, until next year.

At best.

So says Gary Wagner of the UL-Lafayette economics department.

Louisiana’s economy will return to pre-COVID-19 levels late next year at the earliest based on the current pace  of recovery, according to a new forecast.

Gary Wagner, a business economist at UL-Lafayette, produces the quarterly Louisiana Economic Activity Forecast. In his newest report, he said the outlook for key economic indicators is as strong as it has been in a year after the state gained more than 44,000 jobs during the last three months of 2020.

Every metropolitan region of the state added jobs last quarter. Wagner expects that trend to continue over the next five quarters, leading to more than 56,000 additional jobs statewide.

“Despite the improved outlook, a full recovery for most economic indicators in the state is (now) not expected until late 2022 or early 2023,” he said. “The unemployment rate remains stubbornly high as both initial and continued unemployment claims remain well-above historical norms.”

Through the end of last year, the number of jobs in the state was more than 90,000 lower than the 2019 fourth quarter average of just under 2 million. The number of people employed part-time involuntarily exceeds 88,000, the highest number in nearly two decades, Wagner said.

Wagner’s baseline projection is for 46,000 jobs to be added in the next four quarters. At this pace, Louisiana will not regain all of the COVID-19-related job losses until the fourth quarter of 2022, he said.

The baseline projection also shows the unemployment rate falling gradually, not reaching its pre-COVID-19 rate of 5.2% until mid-2023.

There isn’t a whole lot you can say about this. Wagner’s forecast feels true – look around the state and there isn’t any particular positive movement in any of its major industries. Tourism is in the toilet, oil and gas is almost dead, petrochemical is at a standstill, retail is crippled. Health care looks like it’s where all the money is going, but if you talk to the hospital people they say they’re struggling as well (whether you believe them is a different story). Talk to folks who work in restaurants, bars and hotels and they’ll tell you it’s the end of the world.

And nobody seems very motivated to get things going. They’ve just sort of accepted that Louisiana will be in the doldrums forever, and anybody who feels like things can be better than they are generally talks about moving.

We had Jeff Sadow’s post earlier today talking about how the 2023 election will be a Jeff Landry-Billy Nungesser affair. That’s probably true, though state senator Gary Smith, who can self-finance a campaign (he’ll need to; the $373,000 he has in his campaign account won’t put him in the big leagues Nungesser and Landry are playing in now), is reportedly going to make a run at the race on the Democrat side. It’s entirely likely there will be a black Democrat as well; Ted James’ name is the one we see floated most often. If the state legislature passes a party primaries bill this year or next, that race could really be interesting.

What we would be curious to see is if any of those candidates for governor make it a point of emphasis to actually talk about getting the state’s economy going again. You’d think that would be the only item anybody cares about by then.

But maybe not. Maybe Louisiana will be so beat-down and complacent that economic doldrums will just be a given, and we’ll have an election about guns, God and abortion – or whatever stupid scandals the Advocate gins up against the conservatives in order to distract the voters.

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