From March until August, the parish’s unemployment rate has increased from 4.7 percent to 7 percent, mainly due to losses in construction and manufacturing, Economic Development Director Corey Faucheux said.
But it’s not all bad news. Though St. Charles’ unemployment has crept up in the first quarter of 2009, the parish still has the highest average weekly wage in the state at $1,166. Currently, the state average is $772. The hiring freeze at many large area businesses is also giving mid-size companies the chance to take advantage of qualified workers that are having trouble finding a job, Faucheux said.
Due to the effects of the national economy, the parish’s unemployment rate rose to 4.7 percent in March, increased to 6.7 percent in June and then stretched to 7 percent in August. Though that number is relatively high, the state average as of August was 8.1 percent and the national average was 9.6 percent.
“It is a direct effect of what is going on around the nation,” Faucheux said. “Even though south Louisiana is somewhat insulated from the global economic issues and challenges, we do seem to see trouble later than most and come out of that trouble later than the rest of the country.”
Faucheux said the main reason the parish’s rate has increased is because the area’s top two employing business sectors – manufacturing and construction – experienced declines.
“Construction employment declines are pretty obvious because the credit market right now is not allowing a lot of home construction,” he said. “There is still some home building in the parish, but it is nowhere near the amount of activity that we saw in the past four or five years.”
Faucheux said that the manufacturing sector has had to cut back production, which has also led to a cut back of the local workforce.
“Another area of the construction sector, the contractors at our large industrial facilities, have also experienced cut backs,” Faucheux said. “It’s a story that I have heard throughout the region.”
From the fourth quarter of 2008 to the first quarter of 2009, the parish has seen a loss of 550 construction jobs.
“We also lost a handful of jobs in the wholesale trade and transportation industries,” Faucheux added. “Because of the economy, local businesses aren’t going to move as many goods so they may have to cut back on a warehouse employee or a delivery driver.”
While the unemployment rate in the parish has risen over the last few months, Faucheux does expect it to stabilize soon. If the rate does rise, he thinks it would creep up and would not be a dramatic increase.
“Historically, the first quarter has been a period where the employment numbers in the construction, wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing, and retail sectors are always lower than it is later in the year,” he said. “If it follows that historic trend, then I expect the unemployment rate to stabilize somewhat.”
Faucheux also said that there is still, and will be, a need for qualified workers in the region. While many of the plants have postponed hiring, there is still a demand for workers with the particular skill set that companies are looking for.
“Yes, there are still good jobs here,” Faucheux said. “Businesses haven’t stopped hiring altogether, they just may not be hiring at the same pace that they were before the economic downturn.
“Some are waiting until they get their hands around what is going on.”
An aging workforce from New Orleans to Baton Rouge also means that jobs could become available in the future once workers retire.
“Through attrition, there will be a hiring need in the next few years,” Faucheux said. “It won’t be job for job, but for every two or three workers that retire, one would get hired.”
And some mid-size companies are looking for workers now. Faucheux said that some of them have seen recent gains and are seeking employees.
“That’s the silver lining with the economy right now,” Faucheux said. “Those mid-size companies that are doing well are seeking workers, and they are getting more qualified applicants than they have in the past because so many workers are looking for jobs.”