Public health, economy are both part of virus solutions

Ellarry PrenticeEditorial, Print Sartell - St. Stephen, Print St. JosephLeave a Comment

We can’t escape numbers. Usually, this time of year, we keep an eye on baseball batting averages, win/loss records and how many days the temperature reaches 90 degrees.

But since spring, watching a new set of numbers took over our attention – the Department of Health’s daily posting of how many Minnesotans tested positive for Covid-19, how many have died and how many are in the hospital. We can track these numbers down to the county level on the department’s dashboard.

Now there’s a new dashboard and a new set of numbers. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Foundation launched what it calls an Economic Dashboard for Minnesota’s Recovery.

Both dashboards should help decide how government responds to the pandemic but – more importantly – Minnesotans should focus on how the numbers affect their lives.

The health department focuses on public health and the Chamber of Commerce focuses on economic health, these are not dueling dashboards. By safely and successfully taking action and setting policy decisions, we balance economic and health data. There will not be full economic recovery while cases, the percentage of positive tests and hospitalizations rise.

Watching the health numbers will be crucial during the next few weeks as school boards decide how to open schools based on local conditions.

The economic numbers displayed on the Chamber’s dashboard reveal the current state of Minnesota’s economy. Graphics show state and county employment trends compared with national data. The details also track jobs by occupation and numbers that reveal whether the economy is improving such as job postings, bankruptcies, home sales and new business filings.

The Chamber explains the lag in standard economic data collected by state and federal agencies typically looks backward. The Minnesota Chamber Foundation launched the dashboard to track changes in both traditional economic measurements such as unemployment and job growth as well as alternative, short-term changes to provide a real-time look at economic behavior that has implications for future economic outcomes.

Sean O’Neil, the director of the Chamber Foundation’s Center for Economic Research, writes Minnesota’s economic recovery is well underway. His findings:

After suffering unprecedented job losses in March and April, Minnesota’s unemployment dropped to 8.5 percent after peaking at 9.9 percent in May, and total employment rose for a second straight month. The state’s overall unemployment rate remains well below the U.S. rate of 11.1 percent. “Minnesota’s diverse economy and concentration of jobs in sectors relatively less impacted by Covid-19 are likely a contributing factor,” O’Neil writes.

Some caution remains. While hourly work levels rose in June – aligning with recent employment data – they have since flattened, pointing to a potential softening in Minnesota’s recovery.

O’Neil writes that “Minnesota’s employment is disproportionately concentrated in health care, manufacturing, corporate headquarters, and finance and insurance. Health care saw the biggest one-month rebound in employment of Minnesota’s four most concentrated sectors, as voluntary procedures came back online.”

The report concludes: Several indicators of economic recovery should be watched closely in coming months. New business filings increased in June to 6,530 from a low point in May of 5,681. And while home sales are down 12 percent compared with last year, web visits to Zillow have increased significantly this spring and summer. This could indicate interest in future home buying and selling, O’Neil writes.

You can view the Chamber dashboard here:

The latest state health numbers, updated daily at 11 a.m., are here:

Every day we see national numbers that report millions of cases and tragically the death of one American every minute. These resources share what’s happening right here, right now in Minnesota.

We need to balance both sets of numbers as we make personal as well as community choices to survive until there’s a vaccine.

Author: Ellarry Prentice

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