Legislature’s economist: Louisiana’s economy recovering, but long way to go

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

Louisiana has a long way to go until its economy resumes pre-pandemic economic growth, which wasn’t particularly strong to begin with, the Louisiana Legislature’s top economist said Thursday.

“I’ve gotten a lot more optimistic in the last two months,” said Greg Albrecht, chief economist in the Legislative Fiscal Office.

Before the COVID-19-related downturn, job growth had been sluggish, which is usually the case in Louisiana when oil prices aren’t especially high, Albrecht said. Then between Feb. 20 and April 20 last year, Louisiana lost 284,000 jobs, or about 14% of the state’s payroll employment.

From May through January, the state added about 121,500 jobs, or less than half of what was lost. Of the 15 major job categories Albrecht tracks, seven have lost more jobs since the pandemic low point in April, he said.

For example, mining, a sector that mainly consists of oil-and-gas activities, has lost 4,000 jobs, as has manufacturing. The transportation and warehousing, finance, real estate rentals and leasing, education and government sectors also have lost jobs during that time frame, Albrecht said.

Retail, on the other hand, is back at 92% of its pre-COVID-19 level, he said. Automobile sales are up significantly, though that trend is unlikely to last.

Albrecht cited the new federal American Rescue Plan, which will pump a lot of new money into the economy, the national vaccine rollout and the amount of personal savings many consumers have racked up as causes for optimism. He said he is worried about how new variants of COVID-19 might affect consumer confidence.

Albrecht also cautioned lawmakers that an improving economy may not boost state revenue as much as some might think. A multibillion-dollar industrial construction “boom” during the past decade resulted in only a one-year, 3% boost in sales taxes, Albrecht said.