Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:
The Advocate on filling out the census:
By now, everybody reading this should have gotten an invitation from the U.S. Census Bureau to fill out their household’s 2020 questionnaire.
If you have internet access and are one of the many people stuck at home due to the coronavirus shutdown, what are you waiting for? It doesn’t take long, and it’s one of the more productive ways to spend a little of all that down time.
Not participating always has consequences, but never more so than right now. Census data establishes not only how much political representation a given community will get for a decade to come. It also determines how federal aid is apportioned.
Census data dictates how much each state and locality gets for a wide range of needs, from Medicaid to Head Start to food assistance through the SNAP program, from transportation to schools to emergency preparation. According to research from George Washington University, nearly $14.5 billion in federal spending came to Louisiana in fiscal year 2016 via major programs that rely upon census data.
It’s always important to make sure government agencies have the money they need to serve people who rely upon them. It’s never more important than at times like this, because a complete count now will put all these institutions in stronger stead for the next time disaster strikes.
Another reason robust participation online, over the phone or by mail is helpful this time around is that the crisis is interfering with the government’s follow-up plans. Initiatives such as in-person interviews and counts of people who use certain social services are delayed.
It’s also affecting long-planned community outreach aimed at people in traditionally undercounted categories, including the elderly, people of color, members of the military, rural residents, lower-income people, the homeless, and children whose parents don’t always think to include them.
Off are plans to hold rallies or speak to people where they gather. On are virtual organizing techniques, which groups around the state are improvising as they go along. The Power Coalition for Equity and Justice is launching a “Census & Chill” public relations campaign to encourage participation. Together Baton Rouge has moved its outreach training online and is encouraging person-to-person phone or online engagement to help people fill out forms, to explain the program’s community benefits and to counter potential fears over loss of privacy.
The fewer people groups like this have to convince, the better for all of us. This is a time when a lot of folks are feeling helpless in the face of a worldwide pandemic that’s hitting Louisiana hard. Participating in the census is one small action that does some good now - and could really help the next time the state is challenged by events outside its control.
The (Lake Charles) American Pres on toilet paper production in the state:
Toilet paper has become a major news topic during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and Louisiana has a close connection to the subject. The Georgia-Pacific Port Hudson plant near Zachary is running at full speed to produce toilet paper for two major companies.
The Advocate reported that the toilet paper and paper towel plant is working around the clock to meet customer demand for the Angel Soft and Quilted Northern brands made there. The plant is at 120 percent of its normal capacity for toilet paper, so its 350 workers can’t put in longer shifts to increase production.
A spokeswoman for the company said, “People are requesting twice as much; we are making as much as we can.” The mill is able to produce 40,000 rolls of toilet paper each hour, which adds up to 960,000 in 24 hours or 160,000 packs of six.
Toilet paper sales across the nation jumped about 213 percent during the week ending March 14, compared with the same time frame last year, according to market research by Nielsen. The Port Hudson plant is among 11 factories across the United States manufacturing toilet paper, all of which are 24-hour operations employing 7,500 people.
The newspaper said Georgia-Pacific estimates the average U.S. household of 2.6 people uses 409 regular toilet paper rolls each year, based on the U.S. Census Bureau and the IRI market research company. Staying at home increases usage by 140 percent.
The Port Hudson mill is using only essential personnel during the pandemic, and it has enforced social distancing policies and is minimizing contact among workers. Some are able to work at home. Manufacturers are exempt from the stay-at-home order.
Since most of the toilet paper sold across the country is manufactured in North America, The Advocate said that makes it easier for retailers compared with other products made overseas that are facing delays.
The spokeswoman said there are some concerns about the potential disruption in the pulp supply and ensuring that workers who feel sick stay home.
“We can’t produce if we don’t get the pulp,” she said. “Right now, everything is flowing, but we just don’t know when things will change; we are trying to operate as normally as we can.”
The company has already cross-trained workers on machines as one way to avoid a business disruption.
With so many employees losing jobs, it is comforting to know that Louisiana has one major business keeping its workers busier than ever. They are making what is probably the No. 1 consumer product at the moment.
The Houma Courier on the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic:
It’s become obvious to anyone who has paid the slightest amount of attention that the coronavirus pandemic, and the response to it, will devastate the economy here and around the world.
Locally, business shutdowns, slowdowns and layoffs resulting from government stay-at-home orders aimed at saving lives are already being seen and felt. And now the numbers are just beginning to quantify the damage.
For instance, more than 72,000 Louisiana residents applied for unemployment benefits last week, the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday. That’s up a staggering 70,000 claims compared to the week before.
Across the U.S., new unemployment claims rose by 2.6 million compared to a week earlier. The total was up to 2.9 million new claims.
Economists and analysts continue to suggest that Houma-Thibodaux’s economy, with its heavy reliance on oil and gas, is more vulnerable than most. Already, the area has lost an estimated 25,000 jobs to an oil bust that started six years ago.
And now, local jobs face a double whammy. Aside from the coronavirus, an oil price war spurred by Russia and Saudi Arabia have driven crude prices to just above $20 a barrel, their lowest in years. It’s difficult for most companies to make a profit at anything less than $40 a barrel even in inland shale fields, analysts say. The break-even point is somewhat higher offshore, where innovation, technology and efficiencies have driven the break-even price down from around $60 a barrel at the start of the oil bust.
If declines are sustained, “this might be a death knell for so many companies,” Peter Ricchiuti, a finance professor at Tulane University who tracks regional companies and stocks across the South through the university’s Burkenroad Reports, told The Advocate newspaper in a story reprinted a few days ago by The Courier and Daily Comet. “There are all these ancillary service industries, such as those who do catering offshore, transporting people by boats or helicopters.”
The same story cites a Brookings Institute study that estimates 29% of all jobs in Houma-Thibodaux, a metro area comprised of Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, are at high risk, No. 8 in the nation.
“There is no sugarcoating the outcome,” G. Allen Brooks, a 40-year veteran of the energy and investment industries and a longtime industry analyst, wrote Wednesday for WorkBoat, an online trade journal. “Rigs and boats will go idle, and seamen and drillers will lose their jobs. Contracts will be terminated or adjusted. In most cases, it will be for projects about to start rather than ones underway. Of course, that is not a given, as some producers are overloaded with debt and working on marginal cash flows that are now trickles of their former flows. Those companies are at risk of a total collapse.”
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