NEW ORLEANS, La. (WDSU) — For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic started, fewer than 50,000 people are filing continued jobless claims in Louisiana, according to state figures out Friday.
The updated count from the state’s unemployment office is raising questions about whether the state should stop giving jobless Louisiana residents an extra $300 per week.
It’s a decision that’s up to Gov. John Bel Edwards, who is sponsoring a study to determine the next steps.
On one hand, business owners are saying they’re short on workers. But aspiring employees say they’re short on opportunity.
Shari Gibbs of Slidell said she had the same job in the food service industry for 15 years until the pandemic hit.
“That’s what I feel like people don’t seem to understand,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs said the extra $300 per week in unemployment benefits has been a lifeline and ending it now would be too soon.
“I work with the public every day, no days off for months at a time because nobody wanted to work. Honestly, I’m not getting anything that I don’t deserve,” she said.
But Metairie chef and restaurateur Andrea Apuzzo said he’s doing his part, too, and needs workers. Apuzzo said staffing at his restaurant is about half of what it should be.
“We need waiters, we need bartenders, we’re looking for everybody,” he said. “Porters, dishwashers is another problem, that we can’t get.”
As long as the state continues offering extra jobless benefits, Apuzzo believes the shortages will continue.
“They would rather stay home and make money than make money and go to work. It doesn’t make no sense,” he said.
Dawn Starns McVea, Louisiana’s director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said efforts made last year to save businesses “will all be for nothing if we can’t get folks back into the workforce.”
But Jan Moller, executive director of the Louisiana Budget Project says the extra money also buys jobless Louisianians time not only to find a job, but a job they want.
“I’m confident the way things are going right now that when these benefits expire in September, our economy will be back to something that it was before the pandemic,” she said. “When you say you’re on unemployment, they look at you a certain way, especially now.”
With or without the extra $300 per week, Gibbs plans to keep submitting applications until the right job calls.
“I’m not a celebrity. I’m not a fancy person. I just have a high school kid. That’s expensive, so I just try to do the best I can with what I’ve got,” she said.
Louisiana is one of the last states in the South to keep the federal unemployment boost going. Before the pandemic, the most someone in the state could make from unemployment was $247 per week.
Whatever the state’s study concludes, the federal benefit expires nationwide in September.