The Big Lake Charles Lie
If you believe that Lake Charles is truly the fastest-growing city in the state of Louisiana, I have an I-10 bridge to sell you. (Not that you’d really want it, of course.)
Sure, the raw numbers show that Lake Charles added more jobs over the year than other metro areas, but don’t be fooled into thinking that really means anything.
Because job growth isn’t “steady” in Lake Charles, no matter what anyone tells you.
The truth is, most of those new jobs – the overwhelming majority of them – were temporary construction jobs. Of the 5,400 jobs added over the year, 4,500 of them have been in the construction sector (mostly going toward petrochemical facilities), which means we’ve really added less than 1,000 permanent jobs. Over the entire year.
Have you tried to get a job in this town lately? It’s not easy, because there’s not much out there that doesn’t involve asking if you’d like fries with that. Don’t get me wrong, though. There’s nothing wrong with jobs in fast food or any service industry, except the fact that they tend to pay minimum wage.
In fact, the top three most available jobs in Lake Charles are Cashiers, Retail Salespeople, and Laborers, most of which pay minimum wage. (For a full breakdown of the local job market, click here.) If you somehow manage to get 40 hours a week at what’s most likely a part-time, minimum wage job, you’re only pulling in just under $1200 a month before taxes – which just so happens to be the average cost of rent in Lake Charles. (You’d actually come up 40 bucks short. Try making ends meet on that.)
Sure, minimum wage jobs are meant to be a stepping stone to better paying, salaried positions – but that only works when there are enough of those better jobs to go around. Here in Lake Charles, there just aren’t right now. Unless you’re a construction worker or know somebody who knows somebody in whatever line of work you’re in, get used to sending out resumes and never hearing anything back.
We’re all being sold a lie, Lake Charles. We’re not growing. Not really. Wages aren’t going up to compensate for the high cost of living, our standard of living has not improved for most of us, and we have one of the highest sales taxes in the entire country – which disproportionally impacts the poor and people who work for a living.
Those construction jobs will go away when the work is done, and then what? Will our outrageous housing costs go back down after all those workers leave an endless sea of abandoned apartment complexes and rental properties behind as they move on to the next boomtown? Will the sales tax go down after thousands of people who were paying it don’t live here anymore? Will wages ever go up, or will they continue to decline as whatever bubble we’re in finally bursts?
We all want to be proud of our city, but we need to stop sugar-coating the bitter reality most of us are facing. We’re not adding enough new jobs and infrastructure to sustain all this so-called “growth”, most of the jobs we do have don’t pay well, and the cost of everything just keeps going up.
When will more people stop repeating happy lies and half-truths designed to make us feel good while not actually addressing any of the real issues facing the majority of us living and working here in Lake Charles?
We’ll keep talking about it, though.