Northern Colorado’s Economy and celebrating with the Costanza’s

*my latest column from the Coloradoan*

With Seinfeld’s infamous “Festivus Day” recently passed, I’ve been thinking about how I would have celebrated it. First up, the “airing of grievances.” Although I have many, I will focus on the economy.

Grievance 1. Too many people are out of work. More than 13 million people in the US—including 6,600 in Larimer County—are actively looking for a job but can’t find one. Nearly a third have been out of work for more than a year. Nationally, the unemployment rate for people with a high school degree or less stands at 9.9 percent.

Grievance 2. Too many families are worse off today than they were 10 years ago. The national economy is bigger than ever. Adjusted for inflation, total US output per person is actually 6.3 percent higher than it was in 2000.

Yet this growth has not trickled down to most households. Recent Census data show real, median household income is 9 percent lower in Colorado than it was at the start of the millennium.

Grievance 3. The poverty rate is too darn high. More than 600,000 Coloradoans live below the poverty line, and the state’s child poverty rate exceeds 17 percent. Two years ago, 122,000 Colorado kids under age 18 were not covered by health insurance at any point during the year.

With my 2011 economic disappointments out of the way, I’ll move onto the second Festivus tradition….”feats of strength.” Here my emphasis is on some of the year’s highlights, and some thoughts on where the regional economy is heading in 2012.

Feat 1. Businesses are slowly hiring again. Every month Larimer County employment totals were higher than 12 months earlier, and the county added about 2,000 jobs in 2011. Professional, scientific and technical services and Health care and social assistance are leading the recovery.

Feat 2. Congress showed some heart (finally) while simultaneously crafting a decent economic policy. By extending the unemployment benefits program, policymakers offered a lifeline to many people who continue to struggle in their job search. Renewing the payroll tax deduction puts a little extra in people’s wallets, boosting demand in a time where a real economic recovery remains elusive.

Feat 3. The state revenue picture is improving. Recent budget news out of Denver was better than expected, meaning that cuts to education will be lessened. This is good news for some of the areas largest employers, including Colorado State University and Poudre School District.

Feat 4. Nearly 1,000 Larimer County employees work to make some of the best beer in the world.

So are we heading for a Happy New Year? A spate of recent economic reports suggests the economy will continue to recover, although at a slow pace. New jobless claims are down, small business confidence is up, and residential construction is starting to crawl back from the depths.

However, the recovery remains fragile, with Europe’s sovereign debt crisis posing the largest, but not only threat.

Overall, it’s not “Prognosis Negative,” but economic progress will remain slow in 2012.

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