Before Omicron, job growth slowed

Before Omicron, job growth slowed

The American economy added 199,000 jobs in December, before Omicron disrupted travel, school schedules and work. It marked the smallest monthly gain in 2021, according to the newest jobs report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While the overall unemployment rate fell to 3.9%, the unemployment rate for Black workers rose to 7.1%, marking growing disparities in our uneven recovery. The New York Times’s Sydney Ember and Jeanna Smialek warn of Covid-19’s continuing impact on the economy

The seesawing employment situation underscores the economy’s continued susceptibility to the pandemic, nearly two years on. Although the labor market has brightened, some industries with face-to-face interactions, notably leisure and hospitality, remain extraordinarily vulnerable to case levels…“We’re all sort of at the whims of these variants and surges in cases, and it’s hard to know when they might strike,” said Nick Bunker, director of economic research at the Indeed Hiring Lab. “Any sort of projections or outlook on the pace of gains over the next year or so is still dependent on the virus.”

Vaccine mandate hits the courts
The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments today as it considers the fate of the Biden administration’s vaccine and testing requirements, which are being challenged by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and others. The lawsuit seeks to overturn rules aiming to prevent unnecessary hospitalizations and deaths by requiring that health care professionals be vaccinated and that employers with 100 or more employees implement vaccine-or-testing requirements. Mark Sherman and Jessica Gresko of the Associated Press have the story

The challengers argue that the vaccine rules exceed the administration’s authority, but Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, the administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer, wrote that both are needed to avoid unnecessary hospitalizations and deaths. Keeping the vaccine mandate for health care workers on hold “will likely result in hundreds or thousands of deaths and serious illnesses from COVID-19 that could otherwise be prevented,” Prelogar wrote.

A slow trickle of state aid for high water bills
For many Louisiana residents, especially those living in rural areas, aging infrastructure and limited resources mean that the water that comes out of their tap isn’t always safe to drink. But even for many Louisianans with safe sources of water at home, the high cost of water service can put access to clean drinking water in jeopardy. In response to thousands of families losing access to clean water during the pandemic because of shut offs, Congress created the federal low-income household water assistance program (LIHWAP), designed as a temporary solution to keep the water flowing in low-income homes. But, as Rebecca Malpass writes in The Advocate |, Louisiana’s implementation of the program has left renters waiting for aid.

Louisianians need a safety net for water, just as we have for energy and telephone services. However, LIHWAP implementation on the ground has been close to stagnant and no plans for automatic enrollment have been instituted, creating unnecessary paperwork for those already identified as in need. And even though the majority of households in the state’s largest municipality rent instead of own — with approximately 60% of renters identifying as Black — funding was only allocated to owners, leaving renters to the mercy of landlords who could leave them at risk of water shutoffs. …The challenges faced by Louisianians both predate and encompass the pandemic’s exacerbation of aging and poorly maintained infrastructure, structural racism and inequitable water access.

New Louisiana pilots for guaranteed income
Two Louisiana cities, Shreveport and New Orleans, are participating in a pilot program to give some of their residents a guaranteed income in 2022. The programs, funded by Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, will provide a small stipend to selected residents in each city. In Shreveport, that means 110 single-parent households with low incomes will receive $680 each for 12 months. WWNO’s Stephan Bisaha and Aubri Juhasz report on the impact that Shreveport leaders hope the program will have: 

“We know that 25% of the citizens in Shreveport are living in poverty, and we know that a program like this would help more of our residents maintain a better quality of life,” Candice Battiste, the city’s pilot manager, said. “It’s not just about survival, but about living…It’s important for us to make sure that we follow through as soon as we can with getting these funds in the hands of the people that need it,” Battiste said. “Their bills are not going to wait for us to get an answer, so it’s more important for us to just get the program started.”

Number of the Day
9% – The proportion of income 1 in 5 New Orleanians paid for their water bills in 2018. The United Nations considers water bills over 3% of a household’s income to be unaffordable. (Source: The Advocate)