We have all been through a lot and continue to face challenges. COVID-19, fires, floods, hurricanes, droughts, financial meltdowns, wars, Oh my! The list is daunting. Our deep, survival brain …
We have all been through a lot and continue to face challenges. COVID-19, fires, floods, hurricanes, droughts, financial meltdowns, wars, Oh my! The list is daunting. Our deep, survival brain (the amygdala) goes straight to fear, flight and fight when we face these events. The constant media/internet drumbeat of “breaking news,” which is usually bad news, keeps us in a constant low level state of threat. Schools and businesses closed. Supply chain problems caused shortages and inflation.
However, the 24-hour crisis news cycle does not cover the very good things happening right now in our country. Good news doesn’t sell ads! Our government stepped up and addressed these nationwide problems as only it can with big systemic solutions. If these actions had not been taken, we most probably would be deep in a recession. Here are some examples to brighten your day,
The economy has added jobs for 31 straight months and monthly job gains are averaging 184,000 jobs/month equi-valent to our last major economic expansion. The current unemployment rate is 3.5%, much lower than the long term average of 5.72%. This is the lowest unemployment rate in 54 years. Wyoming’s unemployment rate is even lower at 3%.
On the business front, according to the US Chamber of Commerce, new business applications rose by 7% in the first half of 2023. The 16.6 million new business applications filed since March 2020 total more than the combined total during the five years leading up to the pandemic.
How did this amazing economic recovery happen after the dark days of the pandemic? One of the major answers is from a source often not near and dear to Wyomingites. Our Federal government! In March 2020, the U.S. Congress allocated Wyoming $1.25 billion as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The Wyoming Legislature took that money and earmarked $325 million for business and nonprofit relief. This money kept their doors open and people employed. As an example, Genesis Alkali (trona), received funds to keep Covid out of the workplace and operating through the pandemic.
The Wyoming Business Council awarded $56.4 million to provide internet service to areas that had little if no broadband. These projects positively impacted 15 counties and 54 communities. This is especially beneficial to our economy today as many people now work at home through the internet.
Also, $4.8 million was awarded to support Wyoming meat processing facilities.
The CARES act funded 293 oil and gas projects totally $30 million. According to company estimates, these projects provided 5,000 jobs and will produce over $150 million in oil and gas revenue. Gabe D’Arthenay, operations manager for Southwestern Production Corporation, said, “This additional production will provide increased revenue to Wyoming as well as continuing employment opportunities.”
Gov. Mark Gordon created the Hospitality Loss Relief Program to provide support for hospitality businesses and nonprofits. Most bars, taverns, restaurants and hotels were eligible for up to $50,000 in assistance. In all, 144 businesses and nonprofits were awarded $1.5 million. As Our Place777 owner Phillip Viviano said, “There’s really nothing that compares to what Wyoming has done for small businesses.”
We can only imagine what our lives and the Wyoming economy would have been during and after the pandemic if this federal money had not been available. Surely, a recession, people thrown out of work, homelessness, businesses closing and possibly worse. The CARES act was supported by the entire Wyoming delegation. It wasn’t a government “give away” to undeserving people but a desperately needed infusion of support funded by our taxes — your tax dollars at work to save us in a time of extreme crisis.
How about today? We’re still doing better economically than most of the world. Why? Wyoming has received $2.3 billion from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Have you noticed the many road resurfacing and bridge repair projects? Wyoming received $814.6 million to invest in roads, bridges, public transit (buses), transmission, internet access and airports. In all $73 million was allocated for clean water projects and 14,000 new households are now receiving high speed internet. These investments are not government waste as some people feel who post signs like, “We the People are Pissed.” These are your tax dollars going for investment in our country’s infrastructure making us stronger and more competitive. Can you imagine what complaints and hardships would result from roads full of potholes, bridges deteriorating or collapsing, and no or very slow internet? The law makes an historic investment to build thousands of miles of transmission lines and clean energy like nuclear, hydrogen, carbon capture, batteries, weatherization and flood mitigation. An up to date well maintained infrastructure is absolutely necessary for a strong economy and high employment. These projects result in thousands of jobs keeping unemployment low. Businesses invest all the time to grow and remain resilient to economic winds. Our government must do the same for our jointly owned roads, bridges, communication services and public utilities. Do we want to let our country’s infrastructure deteriorate to third world country status? We the people would be really pissed off then!
And, how about the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)? The IRA capped prescription drug costs for thousands of Wyoming medicare beneficiaries, reducing insurance premiums by about $1,390/year while expanding coverage to about 7,000 Wyomingites and capping insulin at $35/month. The IRA provides significant funding for clean energy projects in Wyoming. Based on data from the Rocky Mountain Institute, the IRA could create many as 1,943 jobs in Wyoming. What most people don’t know is that this act requires extensive oil and gas development before clean energy projects can go forward. The Department of the Interior (BLM), cannot approve new wind and solar projects until it has sold 2 million acres of oil and gas leases. Aren’t we always talking about diversifying our economy, creating more jobs, keeping our young people in the state? Wouldn’t jobs in any energy sector do that? Wind turbine tech jobs start at about $25/hour. A small wind turbine lease on private land pays $8,000/year; a large one is $50,000-$80,000/year. That may keep some ranches in business.
Our entire Wyoming delegation voted against the IRA. If this bill had not passed, all these jobs and money for Wyoming citizens would not exist.
Our economy, jobs and future are looking pretty good right now. We have the highest average income/person in the world. It’s 30% higher than western Europe and 54% higher than Japan. Our inflation is 3.2% compared to 8.52% last year and 5.3% now in Europe. Of course, we still have many challenges. Inequality of income is negatively impacting our goal of building a more perfect union for every citizen. In all, 10% of all households hold more than 70% of the wealth. This wealth inequality has doubled since 1979. The top income tax rate from 1944-1963 was 94%. This was a period of tremendous economic growth for all of us. It’s when we built the middle class by investing in housing, education, health care, etc. Today the tax rate for the richest 1% is below 30%. Billionaire wealth in 2010 was $1.3 trillion. Today it’s $4.9 trillion. With such low taxes on this wealth, we do not have sufficient money to fund the investments in health care, education, child care, housing, infrastructure, etc.
Let us acknowledge the achievements of our democracy! Let us celebrate the good news! As Wyomingites who stand both strong and humble as part of this more perfect union, let us take heart at the good work unfolding in these United States. Wyoming Rising is a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization working on a quality education for all children, affordable health care for all, the environment, civil liberties and participation in government. Join us at Wyomingrising.org.
(Phyllis Roseberry is the chair of Wyoming Rising.)