October 1, 2014  

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Hurricane Katrina Research Reveals Employment Lacking on Coast

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Employment in Mississippi’s three coastal counties had not yet fully recovered from Hurricane Katrina before it was hit with the recession of 2008, according to a study conducted by two University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast professors.

“Our research findings resonate with the people of the Mississippi Gulf Coast who know intuitively that their communities did not fully recover from Hurricane Katrina before the recession of 2008 began,” said Dr. David Butler,director and associate professor of the International Development doctoral program.

The conclusions of Butler and his research partner Dr. Edward Sayre, assistant director and associate professor of the International Development doctoral program, were recently published in a white paper which coincides with the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The white paper is part of a two-year study that models social and economic resilience in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Of the three coastal counties, the research shows Harrison County has never recovered to its pre-Katrina levels of employment. After losing 30 percent of its pre-Katrina services sector jobs, Harrison County still had eight percent fewer service sector jobs in December 2007 than before the hurricane.

HancockCountylost more than 40-percent of its service employment after the hurricane but recovered to pre-Katrina levels of employment in June 2007. Jackson County, furthest from the storm’s landfall, also saw immediate losses in service sector employment. It lost 10-percent of service jobs, yet recovered service employment to pre-Katrina levels by March 2006.

However, due to the relative size of and the losses in Harrison County, the three coastal Mississippi counties still had employment levels that were 7 percent lower in December 2009 than they were in August 2005.

“For the Gulf Coast this has been a rolling disaster,” explained Butler. “First there was Hurricane Katrina, then the recession of 2008, and now the oil spill of 2010. It has been difficult for many coastal residents to regain their footing in the last five years.”

Using employment statistics from January 2001 through December 2009, the researchers were able to determine the storm’s economic impact on Hancock, Harrison and Jackson Counties. The data show service sector jobs dominate total private employment with more than 50 percent of those employed in the region. Following Hurricane Katrina, employment in the services sector plummeted in all three counties with Hancock County suffering the greatest losses, followed by Harrison County and Jackson County.

The construction industry showed the biggest employment increase after the hurricane due to both cleanup and rebuilding needs along the coast. After the storm, service sector jobs significantly lagged behind employment in construction and goods.

“The research conducted by Drs. Butler and Sayre is not only useful for the academic community but also as a policy tool for lawmakers and local agencies. The relevance for this model goes beyond Mississippi and when examining disasters is relevant to the whole United States,” said Warren C. Edwards, Director, Southeast Regional Research Initiative.

The research for this study was funded by the Southeast Region Research Initiative (SERRI). A complete copy of the white paper by Butler and Sayre may be downloaded at: http://www.usm.edu/international/files/Katrina-Employment-White-Paper100806.pdf.