President Joe Biden’s ambitious plan to level the economic playing field by expanding the federal safety net and making long-neglected infrastructure investments faces some critical tests this week. Politico’s Sarah Ferris and Heather Caygle report that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called for a Thursday vote on the public works bill, which has already passed the Senate with bipartisan support. Lawmakers also are expected to vote on the larger budget bill, which seeks to expand the availability of child tax credits, make college more affordable and reduce the number of Americans without stable housing.
Pelosi and her leadership team are still racing to lock down the votes for both bills, according to multiple people familiar with the discussions. With just three votes to spare, Democratic leaders are counting on the White House to flex even more whip muscle in their already expansive operation.
The expansions to safety-net programs would be financed by raising taxes on profitable corporations and households making more than $400,000 per year. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports, it would go a long way toward reducing deeply rooted racial disparities that have kept generations of Black Americans and others from reaching their full potential.
The Build Back Better legislation relies on programs and policies that have a substantial track record and a strong base of evidence in the United States and abroad that demonstrate the significant benefits these investments would deliver. Children of color, who are more likely to experience economic insecurity and lower-quality schooling, would especially benefit from many of these investments.
Louisiana’s sluggish economy
The Pelican State’s economy is growing, and the unemployment rate is falling. But the pace of that growth has been slower than many experts expected as the country began emerging from the depths of the pandemic. The Advocate’s Kristen Mosbrucker reports that while low-paying jobs in fast food and retail are plentiful, it’s a different story for the overall Louisiana economy at a time when many states have already seen jobs return to pre-pandemic levels.
Louisiana’s unemployment rate improved from 7.5% to 7.1%. During a more typical year, that means workers are getting back into the labor force. But this year, something else happened: 58,000 workers dropped out of the labor market entirely, not seeking jobs anymore. More than 20,000 of those workers leaving the job market were in New Orleans. And that trend accounted for the entire improvement of the unemployment rate. … Louisiana ranks No. 45 in the job recovery nationwide. The state regained 39% of the 285,000 jobs lost during the pandemic in 2020. Louisiana’s more sluggish recovery is now expected to add 29,000 jobs in the next 12 months, instead of 71,000 jobs.
Ida’s impact on public schools
Hurricane Ida forced 40% of Louisiana’s public school students – about 300,000 children – out of their classrooms. Now, nearly a month after the Category 4 storm made landfall, nearly 105,000 children are still not back in classrooms, as some schools may remain closed until the end of October. As The Advocate’s Will Sentell reports, the latest disruption comes after a difficult year that saw the Covid-19 pandemic wreak havoc on academic routines.
The tumultuous 2020-21 school year was marked by stops and starts, in-person and virtual learning and a wholesale drop in key state scores that measure what students know about math, English, science and social studies. There was some optimism when classes began in early August. … But Hurricane Ida turned 25 parishes into federal disaster areas, with lower Terrebonne, Lafourche, Jefferson and St. Charles parishes leading the way. A total of 159 schools were damaged in those four districts alone.
The child-care dilemma
There may be no better investment that governments can make than to ensure every child has access to high-quality early care and education from birth through age 3. Child-care is expensive, however, and the economics of the industry have grown worse over the pandemic, as the cost of child-care centers complying with health regulations increased and workers became harder to find. The New York Times’ Claire Cain Miller reports:
Eight in 10 providers said they were experiencing a staffing problem, and half said hiring was harder than it had been before the pandemic, according to a survey over the summer of 7,500 of them by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Half said they were serving fewer children as a result of hiring problems, and a quarter had reduced their hours. The lack of child care is also contributing to other labor shortages, because many parents who can’t find reliable child care can’t return to work.
In Louisiana, many child-care providers are also dealing with recovery from Hurricane Ida. The Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, working with Agenda for Children, has set up a fund to help with recovery.
Number of the Day
5 – Number of states that have already regained all of the jobs that were lost during the pandemic in 2020. Louisiana has regained 39% of the jobs that were lost, and ranks No. 45 nationally for job recovery. (Source: The Advocate)