Working people of color have been hit the hardest by the COVID-19 crisis. Black and Hispanic people are more likely to work in front-line industries such as childcare and retail sales where infections are most prevalent. They also are more likely to have been laid off during the current recession. 

Black Louisianans make up 30% of Louisiana’s workforce, but accounted for 40% of unemployment insurance claims in Louisiana from mid-March to mid-April of 2020. Louisianans of Asian and Hispanic descent were also slightly overrepresented in unemployment claims compared to whites, who made up only 48% of unemployment insurance claims and 65% of the workforce. 

Louisiana as a whole has seen record-breaking numbers of people lose their job since the start of the pandemic. The unemployment rate hit a modern-day high of 14.5% in April, and more than more than 305,000 workers were collecting unemployment in Louisiana as of June 6. 

State policymakers could help address these disparities by making education and training programs more affordable, and by incentivising the creation of good jobs that pay a living wage and come with good benefits. Instead, the Legislature has prioritized bills that direct scarce resources to corporate tax breaks that will likely impact Louisiana’s ability to recover from the recession for years to come

Economic downturns typically hit Black and brown working people harder than whites. History shows that Black and brown workers then get left behind when the economy recovers if policymakers choose to prioritize bailouts and tax cuts for corporations over worker-centered policies. After the Great Recession, this resulted in a significant decrease in wealth and financial security for Black and Hispanic households. Upper-income white families were worth more than they were before the Great Recession as of 2016, and while white middle and lower-class families had not fully recovered, they recovered at a faster rate than their black and Hispanic counterparts. 

One in 3 workers in Louisiana is a person of color. But they comprise a much higher percentage of certain occupations. Food preparation, healthcare technicians and healthcare support, cleaning and maintenance, and transportation jobs are all disproportionately held by workers of color. Many of these same occupations have suffered the biggest job losses during the downturn. 

Before the pandemic, Black and brown workers disproportionately staffed our hotels, restaurants, schools and health clinics – often for wages that are insufficient to make ends meet. Then COVID-19 emptied hotels and restaurants, while rideshare services were no longer needed as people stayed home. 

Data from the Louisiana Workforce Commission shows that the “Leisure and Hospitality” labor force lost 108,800 jobs in Louisiana since Jan. 1. The “Trade, Transportation, and Utilities” workforce saw a reduction of 42,300 jobs. Education and health services saw a reduction of 34,600 jobs. These three sectors alone make up 68% of the jobs lost between January and April. 

As Louisiana policymakers debate how to allocate federal recovery dollars, their top priority should be the workers who’ve been most affected. Instead of putting businesses at the front of the line for grants, the Legislature should make sure that the front-line workers who face the greatest risks are rewarded for their efforts. Instead of considering millions of dollars in corporate tax breaks, legislators should be incentivizing high-wage jobs that can help reduce the economic disparities that have held Louisiana back for far too long.