Hurricanes Drive up Jobless Claims in La. Nearly 13 Times Higher than Normal

November 3, 2005

Louisiana’s state labor department has paid nearly 13 times as many unemployment benefit claims following hurricanes Katrina and Rita as it normally would over eight weeks, the agency says.

Over the most recent eight weeks, the department paid nearly 311,000 storm-related claims in that period – 284,500 related to Katrina and 26,400 related to Rita. Only about 24,000 unemployment benefit claims are paid on average in a normal two-month period.

The post-hurricane claims have resulted in $295.6 million in unemployment insurance and disaster assistance benefits paid out in the weeks since the storms. About $40 million on average is paid out in a typical eight-week period, labor department spokesman Ed Pratt said.

“This is a temporary phenomenon. It’s part of what happens after this level of damage to the economy,” said University of New Orleans chancellor and economist Tim Ryan. “If these numbers continue for long periods of time, six months to a year, then it will show that we have serious economic problems. But I don’t expect that to happen.”

There is no shortage of jobs now, Ryan said.

“Right now there are plenty of jobs, but they are in specific occupations,” he said. “It might not be a skills match. But right now in New Orleans if you are willing to do hard blue collar work or wait tables or work at a retail store, you can find a job.”

As people ease into those jobs and other companies return, the number of unemployed should fall, Ryan said.

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