News both good and bad in reporting pandemic effects

There’s encouraging and discouraging news about the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on businesses in the latest economic indicators and survey results. As is usually the case with complex and changing situations, it’s a mix that requires a more nuanced consideration. It’s not necessarily rocket science, but more like common sense.

If the implications weren’t so serious, it would be almost like those good news and bad news jokes. The good news for an avid golfer: Heaven is full of beautiful courses. The bad news: You tee off at 10 tomorrow morning.

The most glaring example has been coverage of the latest national labor estimates. The good news, of course, was that U.S. payrolls increased 2.5 million in May as restaurants and other businesses shuttered by the pandemic began to reopen and employees returned to work. That’s the biggest one-month gain since at least 1939. Unfortunately, the bad news is that payrolls dropped 20.7 million in April, the largest loss on record that pushed the jobless rate to its highest level for monthly records going back to 1948. The difference results in the even worse news there a lot of people who still haven’t returned to work. Tragically, since some businesses might never reopen, those jobs are gone for good.

The situation is similar in Mesa County, where the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate dropped 3.6 points in May as businesses reopened and employees went back to work. That’s great news. The bad news, though, is the jobless rate remains at 9 percent.

There’s a measure of good news in that officials expect the unemployment rate to continue to tend down as the next phase of pandemic guidelines allow businesses to further expand operations.

Tax collections, a measure of sales activity, dropped precipitously for the City of Grand Junction and Mesa County in May. But that’s a lagging indicator since May collections reflect April sales. The June reports could bring better news.

The latest results from a series of email surveys conducted by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce similarly offer good news and bad news.

Perhaps the best news is most of the business owners and managers who responded to the latest survey remain upbeat. Asked to look ahead six months, nearly 43 percent said they expect conditions to be much better, but not yet back to pre-pandemic levels. Nearly 40 percent forecast better slightly better conditions, but down from earlier this year. Nearly 8 percent said they believe conditions will be back to normal.

The bad news is the pandemic and related restriction have taken a toll. While 40 percent of businesses reported the pandemic had affected income less than 25 percent, about 29 percent reported income had been affected between  25 percent and 50 percent. Nearly 20 percent of businesses reported their incomes had been affected more than 50 percent.

Even as 49 percent of business reported bringing back half to all of their staffs, 27 percent reported that layoffs prompted by the pandemic were permanent.

Most business owners and managers probably know the moral of the story. Economic indicators and survey results constitute important portions of the big picture of local conditions. But the news is seldom all good or all bad. It’s important not to raise hopes too high or let despair sink too low. In more than one sense, slow and steady wins the race.