A federal lifeline for Louisiana’s unemployed

A federal lifeline for Louisiana’s unemployed

The coronavirus has hit Louisiana’s workforce particularly hard: 72,620 people filed for unemployment benefits with the state last week, an increase of more than 70,000 over the week before. But in a state with the stingiest unemployment insurance in the country, benefits from the state alone won’t come close to meeting workers’ needs. That’s why a federal bump to state payments, included in the CARES Act that passed the Senate late Wednesday, is essential to keeping Louisiana families afloat. Nola.com | The Advocate’s Tyler Bridges has the story:

Under the state’s unemployment insurance system, jobless salaried workers can receive no more than the $247 weekly. Under the proposed legislation, they would receive an additional $600 per week, for a total of up to $847 per week for several months. “That would be a big incentive for the working man,” said Peter Guarino, a Meraux resident who until two weeks ago had steady employment as a carpenter setting up trade shows at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.


Race and education predict who can work from home
With businesses shuttering across the state in response to the coronavirus, employees who can’t work from home are finding themselves out of work. As The Washington Post’s Christian Davenport, Aaron Gregg and Craig Timberg report, it’s the nation’s workers of color who are most disadvantaged by the work-from-home / out-of-work divide.

Thirty-seven percent of Asian Americans and 30 percent of whites said they could work remotely. But only 20 percent of African Americans and 16 percent of Hispanics said they had that ability. Almost 52 percent of those with a college education or higher said they could work from home, but only 4 percent of those with less than a high school diploma said they could. “It is really shedding light on some inequalities in a new way,” said Heidi Shierholz, former chief economist for the Labor Department, now at the Economic Policy Institute. “A lot of people who have highly paid, white-collar jobs that are computer-focused can adjust to this crisis without a lot of pain. And then there’s a much larger group that can’t adjust without a lot of pain to themselves and their families.”


The coronavirus discriminates
We often talk about diseases as misfortunes that “don’t discriminate.” But that just isn’t true. As Amy Lesen argues in Nola.com | The Advocate, existing health disparities, including discrimination in medical care, already shorten the lifespans of people of color and people with low incomes and are poised to make the coronavirus another part of a continuing epidemic of inequity. 

The serious implications of this deplorable state of affairs are obvious: We are very likely to see disproportionate numbers of poor people and people of color get sick and die from COVID-19 in New Orleans and Louisiana — and across our nation. Indeed, in a recent piece in Forbes, Katya Fels Smyth raises deep concerns about health disparities in the United States and COVID-19. As she reminds us, rates of diseases like asthma, diabetes, and hypertension are not higher in the black population because blacks are somehow physiologically different from other people. It’s because African Americans and the poor have less access to preventive medicine, and research has also revealed startling, widespread racial bias in health care even for middle-class and affluent people of color.


In NOLA, locked out of housing help by COVID-19
As state and local government offices have changed their operations to avoid spreading the coronavirus, many people who use public benefits to support themselves and their families are finding those benefits harder to access. Pro Publica’s Katy Reckdahl, in a story co-published in Nola.com | The Advocate, writes about renters in New Orleans who find themselves locked out of housing assistance, while they are being asked to shelter in place.

For those who rely on government agencies to help meet their basic needs, the coronavirus has added a layer of danger to the everyday reality of navigating slow-moving bureaucracy that may now be exacerbated by skeletal staff and virus protocols that don’t allow for face-to-face conversations. This is particularly pronounced in New Orleans, a high-poverty city where a quarter of all renters depend on vouchers from its notoriously dysfunctional housing authority.


Number of the Day
3.3 million – Number of new unemployment claims filed nationwide in the week ending March 21 (seasonally adjusted). This marks an increase of 3 million claims over the previous week, and the highest number of claims on record for a single week. (Source: U.S. Department of Labor)