Lafayette won't get back jobs lost to COVID until 2023, economist says

The Lafayette area may recover all the jobs lost during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it won't happen until at least 2023, economist Loren Scott said.

Speaking during his annual Louisiana Economic Outlook presentation to One Acadiana on Wednesday, Scott noted how Acadiana will get support from its top six employers despite a pessimistic outlook for the oil and gas industry, particularly offshore.

By July, the area had gotten back over half of the jobs lost in the first quarter, data shows, as the second-quickest rebound among the state's nine metro areas. It will pick up 5,400 jobs next year and 1,800 in 2022 as the recovery will be gradual.

“For the last couple of decades you’ve started to bring in industries that were not associated with oil and gas,” Scott said. “I’m at least moderately hopeful that our oil price forecast will turn out to be too pessimistic. The key thing for you folks is what happens with the price of oil.”

The area’s top six employers — Acadian Cos., Stuller, CGI, LHC Group, Waitr and SCP Health — have added employees and are growing, and VieMed could be added to that list in the future, he said.

The annual report is penned by Scott, a long-time economist and LSU professor emeritus, and LSU Center for Energy Studies associate professor Greg Upton. The report relies on state but also national data in combination with interviews of industry executives about future plans. Never, the authors say, has there been so much uncertainty in 39 years of penning the report.

The Lafayette metro had lost 27,100 jobs by the end of April, about one month after the March restrictions began. 

Louisiana mandated an emergency stay-at-home order imposed for public health reasons to curb the spread of the coronavirus while global market forces on corporations with U.S. Gulf Coast operations were impacted by lack of consumer demand for petrochemical products such as jet fuel from the state’s refineries.

Likewise, oil and gas extraction companies told trade groups they feared shutting in wells across Louisiana and saw bankruptcy on the horizon despite government support programs.

Statewide, there were 273,200 jobs lost since April 2019 during the first month of the pandemic restrictions, sinking employment to 1.73 million jobs.

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