Key Point: Louisiana’s labor market shows improvement on the surface but there are underlying problems because of poor public policies which can be overcome with the Pelican Institute’s “Comeback Agenda.”

Louisiana’s Labor Market: Table 1 shows Louisiana’s labor market information over time until the latest data for May 2023 which was released this month by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS report has two surveys which provide different information about the labor market. The payroll survey provides information on nonfarm employment based on responses by established employers for at least two years. The household survey provides responses from households for those who have a job and their demographics, which determines measures like the labor force participation rate and unemployment rate.

Table 1: Labor Market Indicators in Louisiana

 June 2009February 2020April 2020April 2023
Labor force participation rate61.2%58.3%55.5%59.6%
Employment-population ratio56.9%55.5%48.0%57.4%
Unemployment rate (U3)7.0%5.2%13.5%3.6%
Total nonfarm employment1.90M1.99M1.71M1.96M
Private sector employment1.53M1.66M1.39M1.65M

Data compare the following: 1) June 2009—Dated trough of that U.S. recession, 2) February 2020—Dated peak of the last

U.S. expansion, 3) April 2020—Dated trough of the last U.S. recession, and 4) May 2023—Latest data available.

The payroll report shows that Louisiana’s net total nonfarm jobs increased by 4,600 jobs last month (+0.2%) to 1.96 million employed, which is 29,700 jobs below the pre-shutdown level in February 2020. Private sector employment was up by 4,400 jobs (+0.3%) to 1.65 million and government employment increased by 200 jobs (+0.1%) to 317,100 last month. Compared with a year ago, total employment was up by 48,400 jobs (+2.5%), with the private sector adding 41,700 jobs (+2.6%) and the government adding 6,700 jobs (+2.2%). This results in about 85% of all nonfarm jobs being in the productive private sector while 15% is in the government sector, which is the same as the share for the entire U.S.

Figure 1 shows the percent changes in changes in employment, average weekly hours, and average weekly earnings by industry over the last year. The industries leading the way in increases in employment are mining and logging, construction, and financial activities while information and other services have the largest declines. Average weekly hours have declined or been flat in all industries with manufacturing, trade, and professional and business services declining the most. Average weekly earnings increased the most in manufacturing and education and health services but declined in most industries with trade and financial activities declining the most. These data show the dichotomy between those in the labor market as there are industries gaining employment but average weekly earnings are falling in most cases and are falling even further when adjusted for inflation, hurting many chances for Louisianans to make ends meet.

Figure 1. Louisiana’s Labor Market by Industry

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

The household survey finds that the working-age population, defined as 16 to 64 years old, declined by another 894 people last month to 3.6 million, down 10,623 people over the last year, and down 34,106 people since February 2020. But the civilian labor force, defined as those who are working or looking for work, rose by 3,377 people to 2.1 million last month, 22,506 people over last year, and 27,910 people since February 2020. These figures result in a labor force participation rate of 59.6%, which is up from 58.8% from last year and up from 58.3% since pre-shutdown but well below the 61.2% rate in June 2009.

But the number of employed has been increasing as it was up 2,363 over the last year, contributing to the slightly higher unemployment rate over the last year from 3.5% to 3.5%; but this rate remains lower than the 5.2% rate in February 2020. And a broader look at Louisiana’s labor market shows that Louisianans still face challenges with the continued decline in the working-age population which weighs on the labor-market shortage and long-term economic growth. And comparisons with neighboring states based on several labor market measures indicate concerns.

Economic Growth: The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) recently provided the real (inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product (GDP) and personal income for Louisiana and other states.

Table 2 shows how the U.S. and Louisiana economies performed since 2020. The steep declines were during the shutdowns in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which was when the labor market suffered most. The increase in real GDP of +2.2% in Q4:2022 ranked 26th in the country, resulting in an annual decline in economic output by -1.8% in 2022 which was the second worst in the country.

Table 2: Economic Growth Comparison Between U.S. and Louisiana

U.S. real GDP annual growth rate-2.8%+5.9%+2.1%-1.6%-0.6%+3.2%+2.6%
U.S. real private GDP growth-3.9%+7.2%+2.6%-1.5%-0.5%+3.1%+2.3%
Louisiana real GDP growth-7.9%+1.3%-1.8%-8.9%-3.0%+2.5%+2.2%
Louisiana private real GDP growth-8.9%+1.5%-1.6%-7.9%-3.2%+2.8%+2.2%


The BEA also reported that personal income in Louisiana grew at an annualized pace of +6.0% (ranked 32nd) in Q4:2022 (below +7.4% U.S. average). This resulted in personal income growth of 0.0% in 2022, ranking 50th of the states (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Personal Income Growth by State in 2022

Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis

The growth rate for 2022 was driven by the negative $10 billion (-4.0-percentage points) in transfer payments from a decline in safety net payments as the expanded child tax credit expired and more people found jobs but increases in net earnings by $8.4 billion (+3.4-percentage points) and other income by $1.6 billion (+0.6-percentage point). Personal income per person in Louisiana increased by 0.08% to $54,622 last year, which ranked 42nd in the country but the increase was far below inflation. 

Bottom Line: More Louisianans gained jobs in April, but their pay hasn’t been keeping up with inflation in a stagnant economy. While the state improved its tax code in 2021, there was an irresponsible budget passed in 2023 which excessively grew spending, busted spending caps in FY23 and FY 24 and didn’t provide tax relief even with billions in excess tax revenue. Given these results, there is little reason to believe that there will be improvements in the state’s poor business tax climate, net outmigration of Louisianans, or the 19.6% poverty rate which ranks second highest in the country. Which pro-growth policies should be pursued instead? Refer to the Pelican Institute’s “Comeback Agenda” for policy recommendations that would turn the tide and provide opportunities for people to prosper.