By David Jacobs | The Center Square
Almost a quarter of Louisiana’s workforce is out of work, and the state likely has a harder road to economic recovery than much of the rest of the nation, economist Loren Scott said Thursday.
Even if the national economy picks up as areas of commerce that had been shut down or limited to reduce the spread of COVID-19 are reopened, Louisiana’s large oil and gas sector still will face low oil prices due in part to the glut of oil in storage, Scott said.
And because oil remains cheap, the market for liquified natural gas will suffer, he added. Louisiana had four LNG plants worth a total of about $40 billion in the pipeline that now are on hold, Scott said.
Scott spoke during the first meeting of the Louisiana Legislature’s task force focused on economic recovery from the pandemic and the response to the health crisis, held Thursday on an online platform. Gov. John Bel Edwards’ commission with the same mission met by phone for the first time Wednesday.
Legislative task force chairman Jason DeCuir called for initial proposals by May 7. The task force will focus on immediate recovery along with medium- and long-term goals to make the state’s economy more resilient and competitive, members said.
Scott estimates Louisiana’s unemployment rate is about 22 percent. The pre-pandemic rate was about 4 percent.
The U.S. Department of Labor reported more than 92,000 state residents filed new claims for unemployment benefits during the week that ended April 18. About 16 percent of Louisiana’s civilian workers had applied for or were receiving unemployment benefits last week, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Tax Foundation.
Since March 22, the Louisiana Workforce Commission has paid out more than $561 million in benefits to more than 302,000 Louisianians whose employment has been impacted by the COVID-19 event, officials said. LWC paid about $152 million for 103,000 claimants during all of last year.
David Stokes, chief of staff for U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, said the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program hopefully will begin distributing another $321 billion in aid for businesses early next week. The PPP was billed as small business relief, though some publicly traded companies were able to get some of the forgivable loans and many of the smallest firms were shut out of the first round.
Dr. Catherine O’Neal, chief medical officer with Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, said her facility has “a little breathing room” in its efforts to treat COVID-19 patients as the growth of new cases has leveled off. She said the number of COVID-19 patients at the Lake is in the “mid-100s,” which “would have scared the living daylights out of me” in normal times.