As the Tokyo Olympics take center stage, it’s natural for Utahns so ask, “Why should Utah do this again?” I think the answer is simple: Approximately a million people who live in Utah today were not here in 2002. That’s nearly one in every three residents.
I want all these people, and those who were too young to remember (like my son), to experience the magic of and be inspired by an Olympic Games.
Ninety minutes. That’s all it took. I gained a deeper understanding of how data informs an elected official’s thought process regarding racial and ethnic disparities in Utah. He, in turn, reviewed the data and considered how he might incorporate this data into policymaking. Both of us acknowledged the importance of the issue, need for increased opportunities and inherent strengths that can help Utah improve.
This is how progress occurs. Data and dialogue work together to open new doors. When we are at our best in Utah, data and dialogue create common ground.
Economist Natalie Gochnour is director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah and is an associate dean in the David Eccles School of Business. She has a long history of public service and continues to be a key economic advisor to state political and business leaders.
We asked this seasoned professional to answer six questions in relation to the economic difficulties presented by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic and how Utah will weather the storm in 2021.
Almost two years ago on NBC’s Meet the Press, presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin commented on the unrest in our country by saying: “The thing that worries me is that [when you] attack [America’s] institutions… you are really attacking the rule of law and the checks and balances… the worry is, do the people themselves really understand how troubling this is… where in a riptide it could really roll us over.”
Well, the riptide is here. The combination of a pandemic, global recession, and social injustice have pushed America deep in the water and far away from the shore. We are swimming against the current and exhausted. There is no ocean floor to stand on, no floatation device, and no lifeguard. We are, as Goodwin warned, “rolled over.”
Twenty-one years ago, I sat in a car in our nation’s capital with demographers from Illinois and Missouri. The head of the Population Division for the US Census Bureau had just picked us up from our hotel and we were driving across Key Bridge into Georgetown because we were in DC to provide input from the states on how to improve Census 2000.
We were talking about a census concept known as “usual place of residence,” this, essentially, is identified by the place that you sleep at night. It was during this conversation that I realized that Utah’s 11,000 missionaries (at the time) would not be included in Utah’s 2000 Census count, and that gave me pause.
The economic pain from COVID-19 continues to build. Since late February, approximately 125,000 Utahns (8% of the workforce) have been furloughed or laid off. More job separations are certainly on the way. We are all asking, “When will the economic misery end?”
Perhaps the most important insight regarding this question came from the nation’s top immunologist, Dr. Anthony Fauci. He said, “You don’t make the timeline; the virus makes the timeline.” With this in mind, I’d like to share insights on common economic questions.
How much worse will this get?
Let’s be honest … it’s hard to imagine it getting much worse. In 42 days, Utah wiped out nearly all of the jobs that our nation-leading economy created in the past three years. More job losses will follow, but I expect April 2020 will be the highpoint for job losses, with each subsequent month tapering down. The leveling off will occur because we now operate with more information, more adaptation and innovation, and more financial and regulatory assistance. We will slowly claw our way back, moving from the urgent phase, to the stabilization phase, and ultimately to recovery.
The onslaught of information about the coronavirus can do as much harm as good, particularly when it comes to the economy. In what some have called an “infodemic” Utahns like me are asking questions:
How do I keep myself and the people I love safe?
What sources of information should I trust?
Is our response proportionate to the risk?
Are we overreacting and hurting our economy in the process?
How do we synchronize the public health imperative with sound economic reasoning?
I can’t answer these questions with precision, but it’s clear the virus will impact some of us, while an economic slowdown will impact all of us. It’s important we take calm and rationale actions to minimize the economic impact even as we follow public health guidelines.
With this in mind, I’ve crafted six economic rules to help Utah during a pandemic. The rules are the economic equivalent of hand-washing and not touching your face.
The results are in. Super Tuesday was super for Utah. Candidates campaigned here, voters participated in record numbers, vote by mail worked and Utah’s voice became relevant on the national stage. Kudos to the Utah Legislature, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox (state’s chief election officer), state election officials, county clerks and the political parties that made this success happen.
Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt tells a memorable story about being at an intersection in downtown Salt Lake City and seeing two contrasting bumper stickers. One said, “Earth First! We’ll mine the other planets later.” Another said, “Save the planet. Kill yourself.”
These extreme statements, as inappropriate as they are, convey a timely lesson — a lesson that is needed as the Utah Legislature meets, Utahns vote in their first Super Tuesday election and a competitive gubernatorial race heats up. The lesson? Seek common ground.