Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Baton Rouge Regains COVID-Lost Jobs; Health Care Drives Growth

The metro area had 408,700 jobs in December which is 300 more than the area had in March 2020. The health-care industry has added 4,400 jobs since the start of the pandemic, followed next by leisure and hospitality.

a boy gets his blood pressure taken
Isaac Williams, 14, gets his blood pressure taken during a physical for basketball at the Capitol City Family Health Center in Baton Rouge, La. In Louisiana Medicaid provides healthcare coverage for many children.
(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/MCT)
(TNS) — The Baton Rouge, La., metro area has regained the job totals it lost because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data provided by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber.

The Capital Region had 408,700 jobs as of December, the latest data available. In March 2020 — when pandemic shutdowns turned the global economy upside down — the metro area had 408,400 jobs.

Leading the way is the health care industry, which has added 4,400 jobs since March 2020. Other high performers in that time frame include leisure and hospitality at 2,500 new jobs; trade, transportation and utilities at 1,300; and professional services at 1,200.

However, the government and construction sectors still have deficits to make up. Construction is down about 5,000 jobs from March 2020, while government is more than 3,000 jobs short. BRAC noted the region's construction sector added 1,300 jobs in December, its best monthly gain since February 2022.

"Our economy is doing well, and the only thing holding it back is not enough labor," said Andrew Fitzgerald, BRAC's senior vice president of business intelligence. "Firms are being productive, but to be even more productive, they need more hands on deck."

Baton Rouge's workforce is facing similar issues that are playing out nationwide, Fitzgerald said. Many workers retired early in the pandemic, right before markets crashed. Others went back to school, and some merely "stayed on the sidelines" with their stimulus funds, though those workers are slowly trickling back in.

"Retirement is much more sticky. It'll be harder to get those people to come back in unless it's kind of 1099 contractor work, or they might come back on a project-to-project basis," Fitzgerald said. "With that, you'd see them in the employment count, but they wouldn't count as a nonfarm job."

Compared to peer cities, Baton Rouge is still a bit behind. Though Baton Rouge has regained 4,600 jobs over the last year, Birmingham, Alabama has gained 16,600 jobs for a 3 percent growth rate, while Greenville, South Carolina posted a 17,300 increase, or a 4 percent rate. Baton Rouge's year-over-year rate was 1.1 percent.

Baton Rouge's job totals may vacillate more than its peer metros because of the region's high concentration of construction jobs, Fitzgerald said.

"In the construction boom periods, it makes us look great," he said. "In construction bust periods, like we had in 2018 — we saw a little bit of recovery in 2019 and then the world got put on hold, especially construction."

Among other south Louisiana major metro areas, Baton Rouge is ahead of New Orleans, but behind Lafayette in terms of bringing back pandemic job losses.

Though the New Orleans region has regained 22,700 jobs over the last year, it is still short of its March 2020 total by 5,800, Fitzgerald said. New Orleans had 573,000 jobs in December compared to 578,800 in March 2020.

Fitzgerald said most of that shortfall is in New Orleans' leisure and hospitality sector, which is down by 6,500 jobs. A "big upswing" in professional services and health care has offset some of that deficit.

Lafayette, meanwhile, is up by 900 jobs from pre-pandemic times. The region had 204,100 jobs in December compared to 203,200 in March 2020.

Lafayette has been in the black for a few months, Fitzgerald said. Acadiana's economy has shown growth across all sectors, while the Capital Region's growth is lagging because of the decline in construction and government jobs.

However, a pending backlog of industrial projects should boost the construction sector, Fitzgerald said.

"It's going to come back," he said. "It's just a matter of when, not if."

Louisiana as a whole gained 48,200 jobs from December 2021 to December 2022, but the state is still about 51,000 short of its pre-pandemic total. Natural disasters have blunted much of the state's job recovery, economist Loren Scott has said.

(c)2023 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Special Projects