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05.29.2020

Coming Back from the Health and Economic Crisis

The Economic Recovery Task Force has submitted its interim report to me, and today I’d like to talk about some of the steps we need to take to boost our economy after COVID-19.

The report paints an accurate picture of COVID’s impact on the state. For example, it notes 5,500 jobs were lost in the hotel industry, and there has been a 13.4 percent decrease in total consumer spending.

We see the signs everywhere that the pandemic has dealt our state and nation a setback, but I am optimistic about our future and a return to a growing economy.

Typically, Arkansans have acted responsibly, which has blunted the loss of jobs that we have seen in other states. While the precautions and limits have been inconvenient, we knew they were necessary for everyone’s health. Arkansans’ willingness to look beyond their own personal comfort has allowed us to beat the national projections for the number of illnesses and deaths. Our rates of illness and death are among the lowest in the country.

In terms of our economy, before the coronavirus hit, Arkansas was enjoying historically low unemployment and a thriving economy.

By mid-April, when we hit the peak of business disruption, about 17,000 of Arkansas’s small businesses were closed, which represents 35 percent of the total. That is 10 percent below the national average.

The unemployment rate rose to 10.2 percent in April, but that is 4 percent lower than the national average.

A U.S. Census survey taken in early May found that 39 percent of Arkansans had lost some income since mid-March. Another 23 percent of Arkansas households reported “housing insecurity.”

The physical, economic, and emotional toll on Arkansans is hard to comprehend. But this isn’t the first time we have weathered difficult days. We have overcome hardship before.

The members of the Economic Recovery Task Force have been hard at work over the past six weeks. They have studied the impact from every angle as they chart a path to recovery. They have identified opportunities, such as increased workforce training and expanding rural broadband, that not only will help us as we work our way out of this but will have a long-lasting impact on Arkansas.

The task force also recommended liability protection as businesses return, open, and expand, and they also recommend new solutions for the childcare needs of workers.

The Task Force Chairman, Steuart Walton, expressed his optimism at a news conference this last week. He noted that the health crisis and the resulting economic crisis are linked. We can’t beat one unless we beat the other.

We will conquer both. Arkansans are doing a great job of looking out for one another. That is just the way we are.

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