In the two years since the COVID-19 pandemic forced Lafayette’s employment rates to plummet, the Acadiana area has seen historic job growth rates — though it is still far below the pre-pandemic levels.
In February 2020, just before COVID-19 would begin its run through Louisiana, the Lafayette Metropolitan Statistical Area had 204,500 total workers. Employment dropped slightly in March 2020 — less than 1% — which saw the first cases of the virus in the state, before dropping another 10.7% in April to hit the lowest mark since January 2000.
During the Great Recession around 2008 and the recession in the early 2000s, the Lafayette area never dropped below 190,000 workers. But in April 2020, the metro area had 181,400.
In the two years since the onset of the pandemic, the region — like the state and others across the U.S. — benefitted from federal stimulus packages and has seen employment recovery, but challenges still remain as some industries struggle to bounce back and business have to adopt new methods to attract workers.
“These numbers show strong, stable growth after a tough couple of years dealing with COVID-19,” said Louisiana Workforce Commission Secretary Ava Cates. “They show Louisianans are getting back to work in record numbers. If Louisianans are known for one thing it’s their resiliency and that’s what’s clear here.”
What industries have bounced back the best in Acadiana?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics breaks total non-farming employment data down into 11 industries: mining and logging, construction, manufacturing, trade (which includes transportation and utilities), information, financial activities, professional and business services, education and health services, leisure and hospitality, other services, and government.
Of those 11 industries, four are now above pre-pandemic employment levels in the Lafayette metro area, including construction, information, leisure and hospitality, and education and health services. Based on recent trends in the local economy, none of these are particularly surprising, particularly as the area has transitioned away from being solely reliant on oil and gas.
The education and health services and information sectors are two areas that local economic development leaders have been focused on over the last several years. In March 2020, the information industry — which includes things like telecommunications and data processing — had 2,200 jobs in the metro area.
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The information industry lost 200 jobs, around 9.1%, in April 2020, and the employment numbers remained fairly steady until March 2021. Between March 2021 and February 2022, however, the industry has gained 500 jobs, giving it a net gain of 300 since the pandemic began.
It’s a similar story for education and health services, which includes jobs at schools, colleges and hospitals, as well as many education and health care-adjacent activities. The industry had 33,000 jobs in March 2020 in the Lafayette MSA, but it lost 3,300 or 10% by April 2020.
In February 2022, the industry was up to 33,300 jobs for a net gain of 300 since the pandemic began.
The leisure and hospitality sector has long been an important part of Lafayette’s economy, and it was among those hardest hit in the early months of the pandemic. From March 2020 to April 2020, the industry went from 20,900 jobs to 13,000, losing 37.8% of jobs.
But data for February 2022 shows the industry is up to 21,600 total jobs, a net gain of about 700 since the pandemic began.
The construction industry is a bit of a different story. Generally speaking, the industry has been in decline in the Lafayette MSA since 2012, but it’s seen substantial growth since the onset of the pandemic.
Before feeling the pandemic’s full effects, the construction industry employed 9,700 workers in the metro area, and that number fell by 700 or 7.2% by April 2020. But by March 2021, the industry had regained all of its lost jobs and added an additional 600. By February 2022, it had added another 200 jobs for a net gain of 800.
The boost in construction jobs could be caused by a backlog of construction activities from the pandemic, compounded by a pressing need for additional housing.
“The Lafayette MSA is still in recovery mode following the economic downturn brought on by COVID-19, with total MSA employment numbers still 2.9% lower than pre-COVID employment,” said Troy Wayman, president and CEO of One Acadiana. “Fortunately, IT, education, healthcare, and hospitality employment numbers are up from February 2020, with hospitality seeing modest job growth at 1.9%, according to the latest data, which covers February of this year.”
What industries are still lagging?
Lafayette’s industries that remain far below pre-pandemic levels include mining and logging, manufacturing and government, though this is not entirely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For example, the mining and logging industry, which includes oil and gas activities, has seen its job numbers fall fairly steadily since 2015. The industry did see a small bit of job growth before the pandemic sent jobs spiraling, but it has been in decline for the better part of a decade, BLS data shows.
In March 2020, the mining and logging industry had 12,500 jobs in Lafayette, and it lost 800 jobs — 6.4% — by April 2020. Over the next year, the job loss continued to deepen, losing a total of 2,700 jobs, around 21.6% of the March 2020 total. The industry has seen a slight rebound as of February 2022, now sitting around 10,100 jobs.
The same is true for manufacturing. Jobs in the industry have largely been falling since mid-2014, aside from a short-lived increase just before the pandemic. In March 2020, the industry had 16,400 workers in the Lafayette area, which fell 6.1% to 15,400 in April 2020. Jobs continued to fall over the first year of COVID, getting down to 13,700 total jobs in March 2021. By February 2022, the industry was up to 14,800 jobs.
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The fluctuations in government jobs have not been as significant as the other two industries. In March 2020, there were 27,800 government jobs in the Lafayette MSA, and that fell to 26,700 in April 2020. It has continued to fall since then, and government jobs are down to 25,900 in February 2022.
This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: Some Acadiana industries are already well past pre-COVID job numbers