Mike Cunningham

It’s hard to believe it’s been six months since many of us first heard of a strange new virus coming from China. Our lives have changed so much since March 13, when the president declared a national emergency related to COVID-19. 

Until then, things were going really well. Our economy was roaring. Jobs were plentiful and the prospects for future growth appeared bright. There hasn’t been a whole lot of good news since then.

That’s beginning to change. The monthly jobs reports issued by the Missouri Department of Economic Development (DED) now show positive signs of recovery, with unemployment in the state falling each of the past three months. Missouri’s jobless rate reached its 2020 peak above 10% in April. By July, the percentage of Missourians out of work fell to 6.9%, down from 7.8% the previous month. Seasonally adjusted figures contained in the July report show an additional 52,000 Missourians found work since June.

Although we’re a long way from equaling the 3.2% unemployment rate we posted a year ago, I believe we’re on the right track. We are also doing better than the nation as a whole, where average unemployment hovers around 10%. We still have 210,000 Missourians out of work, but the situation is definitely improving.

More than 490,000 Missourians have applied for unemployment benefits since the pandemic struck in March. Total jobless claims to the Missouri Department of Labor this year have increased more than 250% compared to 2019. Nearly 5,000 residents of the 33rd Senatorial District were counted among Missouri’s unemployed in July – that’s out of a potential workforce of more than 67,000 in our eight counties.

The good news is that Missourians are gradually going back to work. There were 620 fewer residents of my district unemployed in July than were idled the month before, according to the Department of Labor. It’s a trend that continues across the state, as initial unemployment claims have fallen dramatically over the past months.

DED reports widespread private-sector employment growth during June, with goods-producing businesses bringing 8,300 workers back statewide, and service industries increasing employment by nearly 44,000. The leisure and hospitality industry — the sector most severely impacted by social distancing restrictions — grew 14,500 jobs in July.

Although employment numbers continue to improve in Missouri, there’s no doubt the coronavirus has taken a toll. Many Missourians are still out of work, and countless businesses struggle. The disruption in economic activity has an impact on state government, as well. General revenue collections for Fiscal Year 2020, which ended June 30, were off more than 6.5%. With tax filing deadline extended until July 15, the numbers are still somewhat tentative, but it appears the state took in $863 million less than anticipated.

Breaking the revenue shortfall down, individual income tax collections decreased by about 10%, while corporate and franchise tax collections fell by 7%. Sales tax revenues were only off by about 2%, however. That tells me Missourians still had to shop for essential goods, despite reduced take-home pay. That spells hardship for any family.

The economic figures only tell part of the story, of course. During the past six months, more than 95,000 Missourians have tested positive for COVID-19. More than 1,660 residents of our state died from the disease. Fortunately, the eight counties I represent in the Missouri Senate have been spared the worst of the pandemic, with just eight deaths attributed to COVID-19 throughout the entire 33rd Senatorial District. The economic impact has been felt throughout the region, though.

When this all started, I said we’d get through this. I believed that in March, and I believe it today. In my opinion, once we get past COVID-19, we’ll quickly return to the robust economy we enjoyed at the beginning of the year. The fundamental things that make Missouri a great place to live and work remain: a low cost of living, reasonable taxes, a great transportation network and workers who are ready and willing to get the jobs done. I believe our state is poised to succeed once again. With three months of encouraging job growth, I’m confident Missouri is on the mend. We’re not out of the dark woods yet, but we can see the light.

It is my great honor to represent the citizens of the 33rd Senatorial District. Although the Legislature has adjourned for 2020, I remain your senator throughout the year. If there’s anything that I can do to assist you, please feel free to contact my Capitol office at 573-751-1882.

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