New report shows Louisiana went into coronavirus pandemic with highest unemployment rate in US


FILE – In this Wednesday, March 18, 2020 file photo, Visitors to the Department of Labor are turned away at the door by personnel due to closures over coronavirus concerns in New York. Americans are seeking unemployment benefits at unprecedented levels due to the coronavirus, but many are finding more frustration than relief. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

Bureau of Labor Statistics survey of states in early March released Friday

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WDSU) — A new unemployment report Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that Louisiana went into the coronavirus pandemic with the highest unemployment rate in the nation, at 6.9% for March.

It showed the state also had the biggest increase in unemployment numbers of any state compared to March of 2019. The report estimates the national unemployment rate for March at 4.4%. To read the report, click here.

Chair of Economics and Finance at the University of New Orleans, Walter Lane, said the report contains an important caveat – it surveyed states at the beginning of March, before most businesses were ordered to close.

“The unemployment numbers have skyrocketed in the last month, and that was not in that particular story,” Lane said. He estimates the actual unemployment rate in Louisiana to be closer to 25%.

A higher unemployment rate means more people filing for unemployment benefits. Many people have reported long wait times and busy signals when trying to file a claim with the Louisiana Workforce Commission, the state department responsible for unemployment benefits.

“We have all hands on deck in terms of the Louisiana Workforce Commission, as well as the state of Louisiana, to make sure that we are lowering wait times, that we are increasing our capacity but again also that we are increasing our ability to provide folks with all the necessary assistance that we can,” said Dr. Ali Bustamante, chief economist for the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

A representative for the Commission said it has paid out $287,394,973 to unemployed workers in the state since March 29. It’s largest single-day payments were reported Monday at nearly $90 million, when federal CARES Act payments were added to the state benefits. The commission said it has paid $237,972,961 in claims just this week and has added 150 new members to call center staff to assist the approximately 300 existing workers handling unemployment operations, call-center and password re-sets. The department said a third-party vendor has added servers twice since the pandemic began. It has also created how-to videos walking people through the claims process. To view the videos, click here.

Lane said the March report likely reflects a drop in oil prices which he said negatively affected Louisiana’s unemployment numbers before coronavirus precautions further crippled the state.

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ office did not provide a response to WDSU about the Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

By: Jennifer Crockett

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