A troubling jobs report

A troubling jobs report

The U.S. economy lost 140,000 jobs in December, signaling that the steady economic gains since the depths of the Covid-19 recession are eroding in the face of another wave of infections. CNN’s Annalyn Kurtz digs into the numbers and finds that the job losses were heavily concentrated in low-wage jobs held by women – particularly Black and Latina women. 

Women accounted for all the job losses, losing 156,000 jobs, while men gained 16,000. Meanwhile, a separate survey of households, which includes self-employed workers, showed an even wider gender disparity. It also highlighted another painful reality: Blacks and Latinas lost jobs in December, while White women made significant gains. These are net numbers, which can mask some of the underlying churn in the labor market. Of course many men lost their jobs in December, too — but when taken together as a group, they came out ahead, whereas women fell behind.

Axios’ Courtenay Brown reports that average hourly pay rose last month, which is actually a bad thing because it shows that most of the jobs that were lost were low paying, which lifted the overall average. But the New York Times’ Neil Irwin sees reasons for optimism

There is an opportunity for 2021 to be the year of a remarkable bounce-back, thanks to monetary and fiscal stimulus; the delayed effects of buoyant markets over the last few months; and above all the prospect of widespread coronavirus vaccination. The December numbers point to a jobs crisis that is contained to sectors dealing with the direct effects of pandemic-related shutdowns. Unlike the data from the spring of 2020, the latest numbers are not consistent with the sort of broad-based absence of demand in the economy that caused the recovery from the last few recessions to be so long and so slow.

Confusion about Covid vaccines
As of late last week, Louisiana had administered slightly more than one-third of the 238,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines the state has received – one of the lowest rates in the country. As the AP’s Melinda Deslatte points out, the current pace means it would take years, not months, for vaccination levels to reach the levels needed for all restrictions to be lifted. One reason for the slow pace appears to be that many front-line health care workers are reluctant to take the shot. 

Dr. Catherine O’Neal, chief medical officer for Our Lady of the Lake, described challenges in combating misinformation and generating interest. “The wariness of this vaccine especially from social media myths has been very difficult, and it’s hard to argue against something that has no scientific basis, and that’s what we find ourselves in day after day with our staff,” O’Neal said. But she said attitudes are changing and interest is growing as more hospital workers see their colleagues immunized without severe side effects.

The Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Youssef Rddad and Faimon Roberts report that things aren’t much better at nursing homes, which were an early epicenter for Covid outbreaks. 

Like the rollout of vaccines in hospitals and for healthcare workers, the push at nursing homes has been slower than hoped. It also comes while infections in nursing homes are skyrocketing, with more than 500 new cases reported this past week statewide and some homes reporting dozens of new infections. The state does not report weekly increases at long-term care facilities that are not nursing homes.

The inimitable Jim Beam of the Lake Charles American-Press detailed his attempts to get a Covid vaccine last week, and heard from a number of readers who were encountering similar snafus. 

“How will people over 70 know when the pharmacy is making appointments?” asked one reader. “Albertson’s website has no appointments available until after June. I understand having to sign up. But when? Who is responsible for only one South Lake Charles Walgreen’s allowed to give vaccines? 

Race, rioting and the Capitol police
The cascading failures that resulted in last week’s armed siege of the U.S. Capitol will be investigated for years to come. A team of New York Times reporters attempt to sift through the wreckage, only to discover that there was no coordinated plan to defend against an attack on the Capitol, and that planning was haphazard in the days leading up to the protest despite clear warnings of trouble on right-wing social media channels. 

The recriminations began almost immediately, and the violence also carried a sobering reality: The country got lucky. Hundreds of rioters carrying weapons breached the seat of American power — some with the clear intent of injuring, holding hostage or even killing federal officials to stop them from certifying the vote. In the end, all of the lawmakers were spirited away to safety.

Kellie Carter Jackson, writing in The Atlantic, notes that the light police presence is grounded in historical disparities between the way law enforcement is conducted against white people and people of color: 

The choice to turn down help amid warnings of an insurrection is as revealing as it is disturbing: Why did law enforcement assume that they’d encounter violence from protesters marching for Black lives in June, but think that a largely white crowd of pro-Trump extremists and conspiracy theorists would remain peaceful? The difference in the Capitol Police’s response shocked many who bemoaned the double standard. But police brutality against Black Americans and police inaction toward white Americans is not some surprising anomaly; it is the status quo.

HBCU grads take the spotlight
The incoming Joe Biden administration will have several high-ranking officials with ties to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) – including Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, an alum of Washington, D.C.’s Howard University. It comes at a time when many HBCUs are struggling financially, as increasing numbers of Black students are turning to other higher education options. Mark Ballard of The Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate spoke with Grambling University President Rick Gallot, a former state legislator, on the day when insurrectionists tried to sack the U.S. Capitol: 

Gallot was a state legislator during the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal and helped fight back an effort to merge some Louisiana HBCUs with predominantly White institutions nearby. U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, then as a state lawmaker from Jefferson, was a leader of that movement. The idea was reasonable, can a state with only 4.6 million people afford so many institutions of higher learning? … “The other thing that is so in the spotlight right now as I am looking at these protests going on in Washington and the racial division that has been promoted by this president: Students want to feel like they are attending schools where they will be celebrated and not just tolerated,” Gallot said. 

Quote of the Day
“Post-truth is pre-fascism, and Trump has been our post-truth president. When we give up on truth, we concede power to those with the wealth and charisma to create spectacle in its place. Without agreement about some basic facts, citizens cannot form the civil society that would allow them to defend themselves. If we lose the institutions that produce facts that are pertinent to us, then we tend to wallow in attractive abstractions and fictions. Truth defends itself particularly poorly when there is not very much of it around, and the era of Trump — like the era of Vladimir Putin in Russia — is one of the decline of local news. Social media is no substitute: It supercharges the mental habits by which we seek emotional stimulation and comfort, which means losing the distinction between what feels true and what actually is true.” 

Timothy Snyder, The American Abyss, New York Times Magazine

Number of the Day
9.9% – The Black unemployment rate in December, down from 10.3% the previous months. Economists say that’s because many Black workers dropped out of the labor force. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics via Axios)