Unemployment in the crosshairs

Unemployment in the crosshairs

With Louisiana’s unemployment rate hovering above 7% this year, many Louisianans still depend on federally boosted unemployment insurance benefits to make ends meet until they can safely find a job. With fewer than 30% of Louisianans fully vaccinated, some legislators and business owners believe the unemployed are not getting into the workplace fast enough. Sam Karlin with the Advocate describes a proposal that would provide laid-off workers with a one-time boost if they find employment, but that comes with a big catch: 

Rep. Michael Echols, R-Monroe, brought the amendment to give people $1,000 in tax dollars if they get off unemployment benefits and find a full-time job. If they found a part- time job — 10-20 hours a week — they would get $500. People would only be eligible if their wages don’t exceed $75,000 annually. 

Any Louisianan who receives this “bonus” would be barred from the unemployment insurance system for six months. Melinda Deslatte with the Associated Press explains:

Democrats on the House committee had objections about tying a work incentive payment with a ban on receiving unemployment for 26 weeks after acceptance of the funds. They suggested that not all jobs work out and people may need to return to jobless benefits for a host of unforeseen reasons.

Research by Josh Bivens and Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute and Andrew Stettner of the Century Foundation suggests that unemployment benefits are not the cause of any “labor shortage.” Instead, the lingering pandemic, low wages and a lack of childcare are all leading workers to wait for work that better meets their needs. The Century Foundation estimates that if Louisiana were to end the federal unemployment boost, more than 228,000 unemployed workers would be affected and the state would lose nearly $1.2 billion in federal funds.

Louisiana’s resource curse
It is often pointed out that despite Louisiana’s high poverty rates and low wages the state has a wealth of natural resources. JR Ball of the Baton Rouge Business Report wrote about this contradiction, pointing out that by tying its economy so heavily to oil and gas, Louisiana has missed out on opportunities to innovate and to diversify the state’s economy:

Louisiana tethered its economy to oil and gas and hasn’t looked back. All that may have been fine, but this deal with the devil cast the state under what’s known as “the resource curse”: the paradox that countries rich in a natural resource tend to grow more slowly and have lower living standards than other nations. Bottom line, Louisiana is America’s petro-state. No doubt, a lot of people made serious money off oil and gas, but the state didn’t prosper. Instead, our fossil fuel alliance fostered dependency, corruption, indifference to the environmental cost and ambivalence about such things as education.

As David Jacobs reported in the Center Square, the contradiction was on display Thursday, when Gov. John Bel Edwards testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources about the threats of climate change while also urging Congress to end the “pause” on oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico.

Louisiana’s quiet water infrastructure crisis
A new report by Sara Sneath of the Louisiana Illuminator paints a disturbing picture of Louisiana’s drinking water infrastructure. To put it lightly, the state is experiencing a water infrastructure crisis – one that disproportionately harms Black Louisianans and the poor. In Tallulah, Louisiana – a community of fewer than 7,000 people, 80% of whom are Black and 44% of whom live below the poverty line – the water comes brown from the tap:

A main break in May 2020 caused the longest boil water notice, which affected Tallulah’s entire water system and lasted more than two months. The Louisiana Department of Health has issued two administrative orders against the town: one for failing to have a certified water operator at the treatment plant on every shift and another for water treatment facilities that are not up to code. The town owed LDH $689,850 as of April, and fines continue to accrue daily, said LDH spokesman Kevin Litten. Meanwhile, residents say they are paying for water that they cannot drink.

While low-income, Black and brown communities are bearing the brunt of the crisis, Louisiana’s infrastructure woes cut across lines of race and income: From October 2019 to October 2020, there were 200 boil water notices issued in St. Tammany Parish alone. 

In defense of trans athletes
The Louisiana House Education Committee voted 10-4 this week to mandate discrimination against trans girls and women in school and college athletics, despite voting down a nearly identical bill earlier in the session. As Senate Bill 156 by Sen. Beth Mizell goes to the House floor for final consideration, The Advocate’s editorial board says the bill is a solution in search of a problem: 

The House Education Committee recently turned down, with good reason, a bill to address what is not now a crisis in Louisiana, transgender girls taking over women’s sports. In fact, it’s not even a situation: The bill’s backers could not identify a single instance of where “unfair” competition has occurred, nor a case where the high school athletics association policies are deficient… This is culture-war politics in what is supposed to be a short session of the Legislature devoted to financial issues.

Gov. John Bel Edwards has said he is opposed to and will veto any of the anti-trans bills introduced this session.

Number of the Day
$7 billion – Investment required to maintain and improve Louisiana’s drinking water infrastructure over the next 20 years. (Source: The White House)