The Amazon effect

The Amazon effect

Low-paying jobs in local and state government are getting harder to fill in Louisiana. It’s a problem that could easily be fixed by boosting wages and benefit levels for public servants who maintain our roads and parks and keep agencies functioning. In Baton Rouge, local officials fret that a new Amazon distribution facility being built in Baton Rouge – promising jobs that start at $15 per hour – will require them to raise wages to compete. The Advocate’s Terry L. Jones reports

Darryl Gissel, the city-parish’s chief administrative officer, said they’re taking an “across the board” look at pay right now. Entry level positions with the city-parish start at $10 an hour, but Gissel said that just about 30 people are still being paid at that rate — most of whom are in the Department of Public Works. For the last couple of years the city-parish has gradually increased employees’ salaries through 3% pay bumps, with the police department getting the most substantial pay bumps in recent years. 

State government is feeling a similar pinch, as job applications have dropped by more than half since before the pandemic. Many agencies are asking the state’s Civil Service Commission for permission to raise entry-level wages. The Advocate’s Will Sentell spoke with corporate lobbyists who also are having trouble finding workers and claim the problem lies with workers – not the poor wages that employers are offering.

Leaders of nearly half of small businesses in Louisiana say they cannot fill jobs, and 24% of roughly 3,800 firms say the problem is significant. “And when they do get workers they are not really qualified, they do not have the skills that one would hope they have coming into the workforce,” said Dawn Starns McVea, senior state director for Louisiana and five other states in the National Federation of Independent Business.  

Capping the cost of prison phone calls
The cost of communicating with friends and family while incarcerated can be staggeringly high – and unaffordable for a population that is disproportionately low-income. The Washington Post reports that a 15-minute call from prison costs an average of $5.74, which means in some jurisdictions the cost is even higher. Legislation that’s working its way through the Congress – which is opposed by law enforcement – would change that by authorizing the Federal Communications Commission to mandate that prisons, jails and other detention centers offer “just and reasonable rates” for phone and video calls. A Post editorial explains why the change is needed:

This is an obvious free-market failure: Prisons and jails contract with the correction telecom industry based less on getting the best service at the least cost and more on raking in the most generous kickbacks. The industry earns itself a more-than-comfortable $1.4 billion per year as a result, while the people it supposedly serves struggle to afford human connection. The Federal Communications Commission in 2015 made some progress on capping rates and cutting some fees, but the rapacious prison phone providers responsible for driving prices so high in the first place have managed to find ways around many of the fee restrictions. 

We can do better on child care
The United States does a lousy job, compared to other industrialized
countries, of giving working families with children the support they need. A
2021 UNICEF report ranks America 40th among rich countries on how it provides child care – a resource that is unaffordable for millions of families, yet essential if we expect parents with young children to work. Columnist E.J. Dionne laments that Congress missed an opportunity last year to set a new course when the Build Back Better plan failed to gain majority support, but hopes that some elements of that plan can still be salvaged. 

(O)ur debate last year about his proposal rarely got to the merits. It focused instead on the overall size of the plan, what package might get 60 votes in the Senate, and how the resulting legislative train wreck would affect Biden’s poll ratings and the November elections. … There is still time before this Congress closes its books to do something significant for parents and kids, even if it’s not all that Biden wanted. Is it too much to ask politicians of various ideological orientations to align their glowing tributes to family life with the world in which families actually live — and struggle?

Subsidies for child care would be a big help for Louisiana parents. As Makenzie Boucher explains in the Shreveport Times, many Louisiana parents are in a tight squeeze as they return to the office, needing child care in order to work, but facing child care costs that take a deep cut of their paychecks.

“The average cost for early childcare for a child under 4 is about $8,500 a year,” said Kristina Gustavson, chief executive officer at Community Foundation of North Louisiana. (The Louisiana Policy Institute for Children’s Libbie) Sonnier said in some cases childcare costs exceed housing costs. The Louisiana Policy Institute for Children released statistics showing that just over 50% of parents were forced to adjust their work or school schedule to provide child care. Parents in households with annual incomes below $20,000 are twice as likely to have to quit their jobs to take care of their children.

Should judicial races be nonpartisan?
Louisiana’s Legislature, like the rest of the country, has grown more intensely partisan and rancorous in recent years. It’s a trend that has made it harder to get even basic things accomplished, and ends up hurting both major parties. Columnist Ron Faucheux, writing in The Advocate, thinks lawmakers can take a step in the right direction this session by making judicial races nonpartisan, as contemplated by Rep. Kyle Green’s House Bill 206

It would make one change in the law: Take party labels off the ballot in judgeship elections. Green says his bill would help “shield the judiciary from politics” and “encourage the public to research judicial candidates’ qualifications.” … When you think about it, why should judges be elected in partisan elections? Why should objective arbiters of a fair and efficient legal system take sides in partisan politics when they put their names on the ballot?

Programming note
The latest episode of LBP’s Didja Know? Podcast dropped on Monday morning. Click here to hear LBP Executive Director Jan Moller and Director of Safety Net Policy Danny Mintz discuss the opportunities and threats facing Louisiana safety net policies during the 2022 legislative session  — or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. 

Number of the Day
21,649 – Number of applications for state employment in January 2022, at the height of the Omicron wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. That’s a 52% drop from the 45,332 applications the state received in January 2020 (Source: state Civil Service via The Advocate)