At 73, economist John Mitchell has the spunk of a kid.
His appetite for charts, graphs and financial analyses rivals a teen’s hunger for pizza and pop.
All those years of experience, watching, learning, reading, teaching and consulting, have brought him to the forefront of regional economic expertise. Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce CEO Steve Wilson, who once upon a time was one of Mitchell’s students at Boise State University, calls him the Pacific Northwest’s leading economist.
As positive as he positively was last week, the Pacific Northwest’s leading economist left a lingering sense with his large audience in Coeur d’Alene that perhaps, just perhaps, what we’re experiencing economically today is about as good as it’s gonna get.
We’ve got almost nonexistent unemployment, personal income is up 4.5 percent, median household income is up 3.3 percent, the housing price index shows Kootenai County with a 10 percent gain for the year and 47 percent increase for five years, and healthy population growth of 11.1 percent between 2010 and 2016.
So why worry? Well, Dr. Mitchell didn’t make a huge deal of it, but he did note that Kootenai County’s robust employment picture is being bolstered by construction — an economy booster like few others, but not a sector known to sustain local economies indefinitely. From October 2014 to October 2017, Coeur d’Alene saw an increase of 1,200 construction jobs, by far the most of any sector. Government came in second at 800 additional jobs, for those of you interested in such things.
Year to date, construction is again leading the way in local job growth with 400 jobs, followed by professional services and finance (300 jobs), education and health (200) and good ol’ government (100). Meantime, the trades are down 300 jobs this year, followed by manufacturing, which has lost 200. Leisure/hospitality and information have both lost 100 jobs locally, according to state Labor statistics.
That construction power, delightful now, will turn painful when it contracts. And on the national level, our country’s frenzied entitlement spending — 55 percent of American households today receive cash or in-kind entitlement benefits — is the economic bomb that’s ticking loudly but Congress is ignoring.
Mitchell opened his Cd’A talk by saying, “When you leave you’re going to feel pretty good.” But he also ended by referencing the movie Top Gun’s theme song, “Danger Zone.”
Was he simply covering all bases, sounding positive while noting that any kind of serious shock (North Korea, an oil crisis, etc.) could derail the nation’s economic momentum? Or is this, in fact, as good as it gets?
We should all hope that it gets even better but prepare like it’s about to get worse.