With about one-fourth of the state’s workers out of a job, and businesses folding almost every day, it was simply inevitable months ago that Gov. John Bel Edwards would suspend the work-search requirement for people getting Louisiana’s small unemployment checks.
But why, now, does the governor reinstate it?
Mathematically, it makes no sense: The more than 300,000 continuing claims — and that’s not counting “gig” workers not in regular wage-earning jobs — demonstrate that the workforce is in crisis. Those numbers also demonstrate that employers are in crisis, and everybody knows this, from the shop floor to the Governor’s Mansion.
There is some criticism that the state’s paltry unemployment checks, combined with the federal supplements at $600 a week, made people reluctant to take low-wage jobs. But those federal payments ended and there’s no certainty that they will return, meaning families are in a serious economic squeeze.
So why does the governor want to squeeze them harder? There may be some low-wage jobs available but for most workers the coronavirus pandemic has wiped out whole categories of positions.
The complicated weekly forms demanded for three-employer searches are described in almost insultingly upbeat tones of an instructional video from the Louisiana Workforce Commission.
Look at metro New Orleans, where the hospitality industry has been particularly devastated. At one time, a waiter at a top restaurant in the Crescent City could earn a handsome salary and provide for a family. Now, that former worker will find it easier to list three dozen restaurants out of business than to find three open to fulfill his “search” for a job that does not in reality exist.
The governor’s rule — and he said there was no law or regulation requiring him to reimpose it — will result in some workers failing to fill out their forms correctly and losing unemployment benefits. That will save the state next to nothing, but also make it administratively more difficult for the worker to get back on the rolls the next week, as the worker inevitably will.
Hoping that the Congress will come through with a supplement is not a job-search plan, but nor is it realistic to expect anyone to feed a family on $247 per week.
This rule does not incentivize work as much as it tries to trim benefits in a tragically difficult environment for which the old job-search requirement was not designed. Other states with conservative Republican governors, like Texas and Florida, tried to reimpose search requirements and found them unreasonable and administratively difficult, for paltry cutbacks in unemployment checks.
The governor should change course, as other states have been forced to do.