In early June, the financial website WalletHub released its rankings of “Best and Worse State Economies” and Washington led the field as best by a healthy margin.
WalletHub economists viewed the states from three key dimensions — economic activity, economic health and innovation potential. Washington’s overall score was 77 (out of 100) compared with second place Utah with 73. The only other state to crack 70 points was Massachusetts.
When it came to highest GDP growth, Washington was the leader and was in the top five for most exports per capita, highest change (most improvement) in nonfarm payroll, highest percent of jobs in high tech industries, and, most independent patents per 1,000 working age populations. Only in unemployment rate was Washington ranked in the bottom five, meaning it was higher than the national average.
It is important to note, the research was completed before the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world and before rioters took to the streets destroying downtown Seattle.
Before the pandemic lockdown, our state’s jobless rate was 3.8 percent which was slightly above the national average. By April, Washington’s unemployment rate shot up to 15.4 percent (national average 14.6) with nearly 611,000 people without jobs.
The pandemic lock down hit small businesses hard, particularly those owned by minorities. For example, in mid-June, the Wall Street Journal reported the number of active black business owners fell by 41%.
WSJ published data from economist Robert Fairlie, University of California, Santa Cruz, who wrote the number of working business owners plummeted from 15 million in February 2020 to 11.7 million in April. That 3.3 million is a stunning 22% drop.
“No group was immune to negative impacts of social distancing policy mandates and demand shifts,” Fairlie added.
Minority business owners were hit hardest. About 441,000 black, 658,000 Latino, 1.1 million immigrant and 1.3 million women businesses disappeared. For women, one of four businesses closed.
Fairlie said most industries “with the exception of agriculture” were hit hard with hotel and leisure down 35 percent and nearly one-quarter on restaurants closed. Only time will tell if those businesses reopen when the lockdowns completely lift.
If the pandemic wasn’t bad enough, rioters looted, ransacked and burned downtown Seattle. The pandemic and civil unrest has hit state tax collections hard.
Interestingly, the Seattle’s City Council’s response was pass the highest business tax increase in history resurrecting the “Amazon tax” from two years and tripling the rate. The money wasn’t headed to law enforcement because the Council cut the police budget in half.
State tax revenues are falling behind. There is an $8.8 billion shortfall in Washington’s State operating budget prompting Gov. Jay Inslee and Democrat lawmakers to call for tax increases—many of which would be paid by struggling businesses.
Taxes that employers pay to cover unemployment benefits are expected rise to an average of $936 per worker by 2022 and could be even higher if state is forced to borrow from the feds to pay extended benefits or if there is a spike in layoffs.
Adding salt to our wounds, many suddenly out-of-work people didn’t receive their employment checks. ESD learned thieves breached its data base and walked off with $650 million in fraudulent claims which is equal to one of every $8 paid.
In the end, the looting and rioting must stop and we must find ways to immunized against COVID-19 and its mutations. For Washington to remain one of the best places for economic growth and in which to live and raise a family, we must have safe streets and equality among all Americans.
It all starts with respect for another and private and government property.
Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.