With many residents out of work due to the coronavirus epidemic, LaSalle Parish, in rural Central Louisiana, recorded the state’s lowest unemployment rate, 6.6 percent, for the month of May, according to the figures released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. While LaSalle Parish appears better off than the rest of the state, its jobless rate is still nearly double the 3.7 percent it recorded in February.
Statewide unemployment figures were 13.1 percent in May, which correlates with the nationwide rate of 13.0 percent.
Walter Dorroh, the president of the LaSalle Parish Economic Development District, could not point to any specific reasons that might explain LaSalle’s low unemployment rate relative to the rest of the state, but he said the parish has diversified its economy over the last several decades.
LaSalle has a largely agricultural economy with timber as its main crop. The oil and gas industry is also a key player. But as the parish has grown, other industries have developed over the years, creating a market that is more diverse than it was a few decades ago, Dorroh said.
“We had an unemployment crunch back in the 80s when a larger portion of people were working in oil and gas and timber, but we’ve diversified since then,” he said. “I think that’s probably part of it.”
In an interview with the the Jena Times, Dorroh gave credit to “the resiliency of the people of LaSalle Parish as they respond to difficult times.” Nevertheless, other factors may also be at play in stemming job losses across the parish.
LaSalle’s largest employers are the parish school board and its two hospitals, according to data from 2008. More recent figures were not immediately available. Public schools and healthcare are markets that have not seen furloughs and layoffs like other industries have.
Also, LaSalle has a somewhat older population with 17.2 percent of residents over the age of 65 compared to the statewide estimate of 15.9 percent, according to figures from the U.S. Census. This could mean LaSalle has a larger retirement community and fewer residents in the workforce.
Also, of its nearly 15,000 residents, only 43.3 percent of them are in the civilian labor force, a figure significantly lower than the 59.3 percent of residents in the workforce statewide.
Several Central Louisiana and other nearby parishes saw unemployment spikes that are similar in scale, suggesting LaSalle may not be uniquely resilient to the economic impact of COVID-19.
Sabine Parish, on the state’s western border, tracked a similar 3 percentage point increase from February to May. And LaSalle’s adjacent neighbor, Grant Parish, saw unemployment rates increase by just 3.6 percentage points. Meanwhile, the more populous Rapides Parish, which includes Alexandria, recorded a climb of 3.9 percentage points.
In terms of economic resiliency (the lowest change in unemployment rates), the greatest resolve came from LaSalle’s northwestern neighbor, Winn Parish. Nearly identical in population, Winn Parish recorded an impact of just 2.6 percentage points from February to May, though it still eclipsed LaSalle with its total jobless rate for May.
Statewide, job losses have been much worse. Louisiana went from 4.3 percent in February to 13.1 percent in May. Rates were slightly better across the South with unemployment figures in the region climbing from 3.5 percent to 11.9 percent, respectively.