The journey we are on is leading us down a path that none of us have been on before. As individuals, as family members, as bosses or as employees, none of us know with any certainty what we’re doing or where we’re going. As a state we’re in the same position. On this edition of out to Lunch, we’re asking, Where To Now, Louisiana?

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed so much about our lives, it’s hard to think of a part of our life that it hasn’t affected. But of all the changes, the biggest casualty – other than health – is employment. Currently, the number of unemployed people in the United Sates is hovering around a staggering 22 million. Although this is a nationwide problem, the stop-gap solution to unemployment – the payment of unemployment compensation – is left to the states.

Unemployment compensation is structured like insurance. It works on the assumption that only a relatively small number of people will be unemployed at any one time. So, when 20 million people suddenly lose their job on the same day, how do states keep funding unemployment insurance and paying compensation?

Robert, Wooley - Louisiana Assistant Secretary of Unemployment

Robert, Wooley – Louisiana Assistant Secretary of Unemployment

Here in Louisiana, there’s a division of the Department of Labor that handles all aspects of unemployment. It’s the Louisiana Workforce Commission. The Assistant Secretary of Unemployment Insurance at the Louisiana Workforce Commission is Robert Wooley.

It’s possible that the massive number of people who found themselves out of a job can get re-hired just as quickly when things open up. But what happens if it doesn’t work out that way? What if the economy comes back slowly? How does the state keep paying unemployment benefits to tens of thousands more people than it budgeted for?

A Rare Opportunity For Self Reflection

Just a few weeks ago, the idea that we’d all stop our lives on the same day and be self-imprisoned in our homes might have seemed like the implausible plot of a dystopian series you’d see on Netflix. But now that it’s really happening, it’s providing us with an un-imagined opportunity. Self-reflection. When things start back up, do you want to jump back into the exact same life you were living? Or could you use this period of suspended animation to reassess, and make some changes?

State Soul Searching with Dr Stephen Barnes

State Soul Searching with Dr Stephen Barnes

These are questions Dr Stephen Barnes is asking. Except he’s asking them about the State of Louisiana. Dr. Barnes is Director of The Kathleen Babineaux Blanco Public Policy Center at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. And he’s a member of a select group of economists and advisers on the Louisiana Revenue Estimating Conference – a government panel that determines income projections that create the state budget.

Now that we’ve been forced to stop every non-essential business in the state, when we start up again, Dr Barnes is thinking we could do a few things differently.

There Are Still Job Opportunities out There

Even though there are more than 20 million people in the US right now who are not working, and that is an extremely high number, it’s not everybody. The total size of the US workforce is over 157 million.

Companies who remain open through this crisis, are hiring. Reportedly, Amazon is still looking after already hiring 100,000 people, and WalMart is aiming to hire 150,000. Here in Louisiana, workforce recruiters are actively looking for people to fill positions. One of those recruiters is Henry Shurlds.

Upbeat job recruiter Henry Shurlds

Upbeat job recruiter Henry Shurlds

Henry Shurlds is Partner and Vice President of One Source Professional Search. On the company’s website there’s a home page message that says, “We’ve weathered multiple economic and natural disasters during our 17 years in business, each time emerging stronger, and are confident our trusted client partners and candidates will do the same.”

We’re all looking for good employment news about now. Believe it or not, Henry sees local companies in Louisiana emerging stronger from this crisis.

Like the rest of the country, Out to Lunch is on Zoom - Stephanie Riegel, Peter Ricchiuti, Christiaan Mader, Stephen Barnes, Henry Shurlds

Like the rest of the country, Out to Lunch is on Zoom – Stephanie Riegel, Peter Ricchiuti, Christiaan Mader, Stephen Barnes, Henry Shurlds

Photos by Jill Lafleur. Last week’s Louisiana economic analysis of Louisiana and the global economy is here.

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