December 27, 2017
Today as I peruse the national news headlines, they are mainly good news. For example, The Business Insider says the holidays were a “big win” for struggling retailers as sales soared.
A couple days ago, I observed a headline that said: “The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up over 32 percent since the presidential election.”
The national unemployment rate a year ago was nearing 5 percent at 4.8. This month, the rate had dropped to 4.1 percent and the Federal Reserve is expecting that number to drop to 4 percent in 2018. Woods County has an unemployment rate of 3 percent. The lowest rate in the state is Cimarron County at 2.4 percent. The news is not so good for southeastern Oklahoma where McIntosh County had an unemployment rate of 8.7 percent.
Apparently, Trump's new federal tax law will reduce taxes for everyone, which will leave more spendable money in their pockets and should help the economy. Not sure what this will do for the national debt, but nobody has been doing good things for that debt anyway.
Consumer confidence is at a 17-year high, unemployment is at a 17-year low and businesses are flush with cash amid improving profits. Banks and other financial companies are doing especially well as they have accounted for two-thirds of the increase in third-quarter U.S. corporate profits.
President Trump keeps complaining that his administration doesn't get proper credit for these positive achievements. CNN summed it up nicely:
“President Donald Trump is probably right: he doesn't get due credit for the volume of achievements he's stacked up during a tumultuous political year.
“But to judge his presidency so far simply on bills passed, regulations slashed, executive orders signed and campaign promises kept would be to paint a skewed picture of the most divisive and controversial new administration in generations.
“While Trump's supporters approve of his actions and crusade against the establishment status quo, a majority does not, and it is Trump's conduct and personality, more than his list of campaign promises kept, that is dictating how his first 11 months in office are perceived.”
In Oklahoma, the economic news does not match the national good news. At all levels, our education system is enduring revenue shortfalls. In virtually every public school district, the statewide formula for teachers' pay causes them to be paid less than teachers in neighboring states. The logical-consequences result is some teachers are moving to where the money is. The next logical consequence is we do not have enough certified teachers and the state is setting record highs of the use of non-certified teachers.
The county commissioners are upset that the governor and legislature are raiding highway maintenance funds to plug other holes in the budget.
The health sector is in a mess, with the Oklahoma legislature just last week temporarily rescuing the public health departments. Hospitals in all sizes of communities are struggling to hang on while enduring forced government discounts in their charges.
Health insurance companies are abandoning Oklahoma, in part because of Obamacare (they've got to pay for pre-existing medical problems and they've got an aging client base who develop more health issues as they age) and in part because it is difficult to recruit newly graduated doctors to any rural area. Without good rural health care, the populace becomes less healthy and accumulate preventable problems. When the individual's health issues turn critical, then a $50,000 helicopter ride is required to get them to a hospital where there are rescued.
Many rural businesses are struggling. I overheard conversations last Friday and Saturday from good solid citizens saying, “Yes, we're going to OKC, Wichita or Enid to do our Christmas shopping ….” That's such a disappointment to me because I observe how hard our local merchants try to stock interesting and stylish inventory. It's not really about price as it is an adventure and “fun” to cross the county or state lines. Enid people travel to OKC and OKC people travel to Dallas.
Of course, online shopping is a major competitor to everyone. I sorta hate to see our retail leaders pushing people to use websites (yes, we have AlvaReviewCourier.com and LynnMartin.com) because once consumers have dipped their toe into online shopping, the one-click buying opportunities from Amazon and eBay become soooo easy. Sears, Macy's and J.C. Penny are all in a death spiral. (USA Today's headline this morning: “Is 2018 the end of the road for Sears or Toys R Us?”)
The rural retail remedy is to be VERY VERY good at what you do and let as many people know about it as possible. Pioneer Woman Mercantile in Pawhuska is a good example that comes to mind. It's interesting, but nearly every town (Alva, Cherokee, Burlington, Ingersol, etc.) has at least one outstanding restaurant that will