The Chamber SWLA Board of Directors has adopted a policy position calling on state leaders to end the federal unemployment enhancement payments before their planned expiration in September.
“The federal unemployment enhancement made sense when government mandated business shutdowns that left hundreds of thousands of Louisiana residents without the opportunity to work. Since virtually all COVID restrictions have now been lifted, and there is incredible demand for labor, there’s diminishing justification for continuing a program that disincentivizes residents from seeking employment,” said George Swift, President and CEO of the Chamber SWLA. “The weekly payment, combined with state unemployment assistance, is currently the equivalent of almost $14 per hour, which is nearly median individual income in the state. In other words, one can be in the middle of the pack in terms of earnings by not working.”
There are over 8,600 unemployed workers in the five parish area with over 11,750 job openings. (The state has a similar excess of job openings, with 160,000 openings and only 150,000 unemployed residents.)
Despite COVID-19 business restrictions largely ending in late March and early April, the unemployment rate in the Lake Charles MSA remained elevated at 7.0% (the pre-pandemic level was 3.9% and the national level is 5.7%).
Due to the Hurricanes, Calcasieu and Cameron parishes have also lost almost 13,000 people from its labor force in comparison to its level prior to the pandemic (a 12% drop).
The 5 parish region has seen a drop of over 15,000 in its labor force since before the pandemic, about a 10% drop.
While many businesses have anecdotally reported hiring challenges to the Chamber SWLA, the board action was mainly a data-driven decision based on research showing distortions in the regional and state labor markets. In particular, when benchmarked against peer southern states, it is clear that Louisiana is falling behind in terms of residents returning to work. All but one of which have better unemployment rates than Louisiana. For example, Alabama is slightly larger than Louisiana in terms of population, yet has 79,300 residents on unemployment while Louisiana has 150,400 – nearly twice as many.