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New Report Shows New Orleans Workers Hit Particularly Hard By The Pandemic

Ben Depp
Businesses are boarded up on Frenchmen Street in New Orleans. April 14, 2020.

It’s long been clear that the Crescent City’s economy has been shattered by the pandemic. But a new report suggests New Orleans workers have not only fared worse compared to the rest of the state, but also compared to most urban centers in the nation.

The report from the Data Center uses state unemployment data and recent estimates for state and local employment from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It shows more than 110,000 workers in the New Orleans metro area received unemployment benefits or filed for unemployment insurance for the week ending June 6. Across Louisiana, there were 498,000 unemployment insurance claims that week, and roughly one-third of those claims were made under the Payment Unemployment Assistant program of the CARES Act.

The center calls the numbers “staggering.”

And while Louisiana’s overall unemployment rate in April — at 14.5 percent — roughly matched the national average of 14.4 percent, New Orleans’ was 18.8 percent, based on recent reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The report also found New Orleans lost more jobs than 88 percent of all metro areas in the U.S. that month.

Part of that is likely due to the city’s reliance on tourism, entertainment and service industry jobs, but the report also found that the region’s economic mix doesn’t fully explain the high job losses.

Between February and April, the metro New Orleans region lost “about 22,000 more jobs than it would have lost if employment declined at the same rate as the entire state,” the report states. “Of this gap, 10,000 are due to differences in the local industry mix.”

“Based purely on industry composition, we’re seeing a little more joblessness than we would expect,” explained Robert Habans, an economist with the Data Center and one of the report’s authors.

And then there’s the question of what happens next. Habans said the extra $600 per week benefit supplied under the CARES Act has been key for unemployed workers, but it’s currently set to expire at the end of July. At that point, people will be reduced to the maximum unemployment benefit available in the state: $247 per week.

“The sort of baseline level of unemployment insurance payment is generally not enough to afford financial responsibilities for people who are receiving that,” Habans said.

Even as the city and state begin to reopen and the economy begins to recover, the report finds that tens of thousands of workers in the city will still be depending on unemployment insurance.

“I think the idea that we're going to snap back now that we're reopening immediately, that seems a little unlikely,” Habans added.

Rosemary Westwood is the public and reproductive health reporter for WWNO/WRKF. She was previously a freelance writer specializing in gender and reproductive rights, a radio producer, columnist, magazine writer and podcast host.

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