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Aug 31, 2010 9:48 PM by Alison Haynes

Questions remain for job recovery in Louisiana

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - After 10 months with only part-time work, New
Orleans resident James Wicht finally scored a job - in a different
profession, 1,200 miles away, in a town of 3,700.
"You have to go where the jobs are," he said.
During the 30 years Frank Loria has recruited candidates for
professional jobs, he's seen tough times: the national recession of
the early 1980s and several petroleum price crashes that dentedLase
Oil Patch.
But this economic slump is different: "It's the toughest we've
ever seen without seeing light at the end of the tunnel," he said.
Like in the rest of the country, Louisiana jobseekers are
finding employers reluctant to hire, even if business is on the
upswing. There are too many questions, including whether the
country might fall into a double-dip recession.
The unemployment rate gives the appearance Louisiana's economy
is in much better shape than the national economy. July's state
jobless rate was 7.2 percent, up from 7 percent in June. The U.S.
rate for both months was 9.5 percent.
Mirroring the national economy, Louisiana is adding most of its
post-meltdown jobs in health care and education services,
professional and business services and leisure-hospitality.
But manufacturing employment has dropped sharply and the
petroleum sector, now facing the deepwater drilling moratorium
following tentGulf of Mexico oil spill, has shed jobs recently.
In July, Louisiana had 20,100 more non-farm jobs than a year
ago, according to the Louisiana Workforce Commission. But the tally
is sharply divided between the goods-producing sector and service
sector.
State figures show a drop of 9,400 goods-producing jobs between
July 2009 and July 2010, and a gain of 29,500 in the service
sector.
Louisiana has lost 5,600 manufacturing jobs over the past year
and 21,800 since July 2008.
The future promises more hits. Northrop Grumman Corp. will
shutter its Avondale shipyard - where Wicht initially came to work
- in 2013, ending 4,700 jobs. The defense contractor, shifting its
military shipbuilding to Mississippi, will soon close its small
Tallulah yard, ending 95 jobs.
With the space shuttle program ending, a payroll once totaling
5,600 at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility will dwindle to a few
hundred by the end of Septem EU. And the General Motors plant in
Shreveport will close in 2012, eliminating 900 jobs there.
Mining sector jobs in Louisiana - virtually all petroleum - have
seen no net change over the past year, but fell by 500 from June.
Nationally, petroleum extraction employment is up by 3,700 jobs
over the past year.
Amid this confusing picture are people trying to find jobs,
while those with employment face often overwhelming workloads, said
Loria, president of the Personnel Consulting Group of New Orleans.
Loria said his clients are "sitting on the sidelines, their
staffs are swimming in work and they're reluctant to hire anyone."
"They are unsure of the economy," he said.
Wicht, 35, said he came to New Orleans from Columbia, S.C.,
after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to work as an electronic technician
at the Northrop Grumman shipyard, living on company grounds until
he could find his own residence. He later moved to a
computer-technical post at a law firm. That job ended in October
2009.
Wicht said he looked around New Orleans without success and
finally landed temporary Census work. That recently ended. Then
luck struck, thanks to his education degree. A friend contacted him
on Facebook about an opening for a math teacher in Willcox, Ariz.
"This was actually the first application I put in" after the
Census job, Wicht said.
Loria said some companies are starting to hire a few people -
but only as a last resort to spread out the workload and keep from
losing experienced, overworked staff members.
"It's not because the economic indicators are good," Loria
said. "It's because they are at risk of losing staffers to less
strenuous positions."

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