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St. Mary jobless rate up, jobs down in March

An increase in the St. Mary Parish unemployment rate and decrease in jobs during March is likely due to continued sluggish business in the oilfield and shipbuilding industries, a parish economic official said.

St. Mary’s unemployment rate rose to 6.6 percent in March from the 6.3 percent rate in February, according to Louisiana Workforce Commission statistics.

The parish workforce, the sum of employed residents and those looking for work, increased slightly to 19,740 people during March from 19,704 people in February. However, the number of employed residents saw a slight drop during that time period.

In March, 18,432 St. Mary Parish residents were employed, and 1,308 were unemployed. In February, 18,469 people were employed, and 1,235 were unemployed in the parish.

“The big three, St. Mary, Terrebonne and Lafourche (parishes), all lost jobs. So that’s indicative of shipyards and oilfield, basically deep-water investment. That’s what’s been kind of lackluster,” said Frank Fink, St. Mary Parish’s economic development director.

Other nearby parishes, including St. Martin, Assumption, Iberia, Vermilion and Lafayette, had increases in the number of employed residents.

But parishes, such as Lafayette and Iberia, “have a lower percentage of workers in the manufacturing and in the mining areas than we do,” Fink said.

During January, St. Mary’s jobless rate was 6.5 percent, and the workforce totaled 19,776 people, 18,500 employed and 1,276 unemployed. A year ago, in March 2017, St. Mary’s unemployment rate was 8.8 percent with a 20,517-person workforce, 18,719 employed and 1,798 unemployed.

Oil prices are staying consistently above $65 per barrel, and Fink expects prices to reach $70 or higher by year’s end, he said.

Shell recently announced a major Gulf of Mexico, deep-water oil project called the Vito project. Fink hopes that project will bring additional business to St. Mary Parish companies. Fink sees more deep-water oil and gas investments on the horizon in the Gulf as international demand increases.

Additionally, St. Mary’s job market should start improving within the next few months, he said.

“In the next quarter or two, we should see a reasonably solid uptick in the job market,” Fink said.

Fink bases that prediction, in part, on the increase in sales and use tax collections during February and March.

St. Mary Parish officials collected $2.67 million in sales and use taxes in March, a 7 percent increase from the $2.49 million collected in March 2017. Financial audits resulted in $55,016 in March collections compared to $3,100 in March 2017. Excluding audits, March collections increased 4.9 percent.

In February, sales and use tax collections brought in $3.06 million, up 28.9 percent from the $2.38 million collected in February 2017.

Financial audits garnered $389,821 in February compared to $31,544 in the same month of 2017. Excluding collections from audits, sales and use tax collections rose 14 percent during February.

First quarter collections totaled $9.12 million, a 1.8 percent jump from the 2017 first quarter collections of $8.97 million. Parish officials collected $451,429 due to audits in the first quarter compared to $157,978 in 2017’s first quarter.

Without audits, first quarter collections declined 2.8 percent.

In January, St. Mary Parish sales and use tax collections totaled $3.39 million, a 17.2 percent decrease from the $4.09 million collected during January 2017. That steep decrease in January was due to a nearly $1 million, onetime use collection in January 2017.

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