It’s one of those months where there’s so many potential topics that it’s taken me quite some time to settle everything into what will hopefully be a coherent blog post. The way my writing process works is that I start thinking about potential topics for the blog about 3 weeks before it’s due and usually settle on a specific topic about 10 days out and then I mentally work on the topic using what my wife calls “the tertiary processor”. In short, it bubbles in the back of my head while I’m running, cooking, or mowing the lawn. Apparently, I must breathe a certain way while I’m doing it because Elizabeth says to me “how’s whatever you’re writing in your head coming along?”. Ahh, the blessings of two decades of marriage.
Okay, you’re not here to read about my writing process or my marriage. This month’s post is dedicated to very short-term issues for Alaska’s economy, long haul issues, and then good news (because we all need some). Off we go!
Shorts (The Economy)
I believe that the next 45 days have the potential to set the tone for the Alaska’s economy for the next six months. Specifically, I’m watching:
- Does Congress take additional action to extend or renew portions of the CARES package? Key provisions of the CARES package expire on July 31st, 2020 including enhanced unemployment benefits. Congress passed the CARES package with a short-term focus in mind in part because it gives them a chance to come back and see what worked in the first package and what didn’t, and in part because many believed the COVID-19 would be a short-term event. It’s not a short-term event and they’ve had a chance to see what’s worked (or not). Tens of thousands of Alaskans have received enhanced employment benefits and these payments have helped keep the economy afloat and people in their homes. Economic data shows that those receiving the enhanced benefits are spending the money into the economy and their jobs aren’t back. As I mentioned last month, there are some who are choosing the benefits over offered jobs (which technically disqualifies them from receiving the benefits), but most don’t have job offers to accept. At the same time, 1/3 of renters didn’t pay their rent this past month. Congress has just a couple of weeks to renew the program and make appropriate adjustments to prevent the economy from experiencing a significant secondary shock in August and September. Congress could also choose to address additional issues like employer liability and state/municipal revenue losses.
- What situation are we handing Alaska’s schools? In just over 30 days Alaska’s school systems will ring the bell for all students for the first time since May. School districts around the state are working overtime (and have been for months) to figure out how to educate our children effectively while keeping them and the rest of us safe. Children are less likely to be seriously affected by the virus, but is the data is unequivocal in showing they can catch and transmit the virus. As Anchorage’s superintendent is fond of saying “Every day the equivalent of 20 percent of Anchorage’s population passes through our doors.” Schools reopening is a big deal from both an economic and public health perspective. I believe that normal school operations will probably be the biggest signal that the world itself is normalizing.
We aren’t going to get normal school operation to start this year and if viral activity keeps growing as it has in the last couple weeks we’ll be in a situation where virtual is the only type of school we’ll have. Here’s the kicker: School districts don’t control the current level of virus. Alaskans do through their behaviors. School districts must respond to the conditions that exist in the weeks leading up to the start of school and they don’t control or extensively influence those conditions. They have to work the cards given them. I believe we’ve been missing a key question about the start of school. Instead of just asking “What are schools going to do get kids back into session?” we should have been asking ourselves, “What are we as communities going to do to ensure our schools have the conditions they need to stay in session?”.
Those are the two big short-term items on my mind. There’s a third that I’ll mention but won’t spend many words on. The State of Alaska’s Small Business Grant Program has been troubled from the outset. Businesses are waiting weeks without any contact from the program. August has the potential to be strengthening storm for small businesses if incomes drop, viral activity increases, and the program continues to not get money out the door.
Longs (You and Your Team)
Phew, I hope you’re still with me. Back in March I wrote about the importance of investing in resiliency. COVID-19 and the economic effects are a long-duration phenomenon. We’re not talking about a one-time punch that lasts two months and then everything goes back to normal. It is perhaps an 18 to 24-month grind. My hope is that School Year 2021 looks a lot more like School Year 2019 than 2020. The question for each of us is how we get ourselves, our families, and our stakeholders to that point of normalization in a position where we aren’t completely worn out. I’ve got two items for you beyond reupping my comments from March:
- Take a vacation even if it’s a staycation– We’ve been in the COVID grind for over 5 months now. Everyone needs to recharge at some point. It’s time to make sure you’ve put some days in the calendar to turn off the news, the phone, and social media feed and just recharge. The most successful leaders that I coach are now saying to their staff members “Have you taken time off? Tell me your plan for recharging.”. We need to be having those conversation with ourselves and each other.
- Lean into your purpose– Fellow executive coach Scott Eblin published an article this week entitled “How Your Sense of Purpose is Going to G et You Through This”. As Scott notes in his article “having a sense of purpose extends life expectancy, sustains physical function, reduces frailty and disability over the course of life, and lessens the likelihood of Alzheimer’s and strokes.” In short, a sense of purpose extends your life. I ask every coaching client “What is the work of your life?” during their first coaching session. Many struggle to answer. If you ask yourself that question and find yourself struggling let me give you a follow-up to help you along- “If you knew you could not fail, what would you do with your life?”. Somewhere in that answer is the uncovered work of your life.
The Good News Section
The good news section proved very popular last month, so it’s back for a return engagement. Those who know me know that I am not a Pollyanna.
- Drug trial data released by Gilead indicated that their failed Ebola drug Remdesivir reduced mortality in the most seriously ill COVID-19 patients by a whopping 62 percent. This study was small and needs replication. We now have two drugs that reduce mortality for COVID-19 patients. If you’re interested in a comprehensive (and reliable) take on current treatments please see here.
- Work continues on a COVID-19 vaccine with good news on vaccines in development coming nearly weekly. The current expectation is that the first generation of vaccines may go out on a mass basis in the first half of 2021. More reading here and here.
- The price of ANS oil is banging on $45. It’s not enough, but it’s more than a moral victory.
Jonathan’s Takeaway: Take a vacation and recharge your batteries. There’s a fair shot that the fall and winter are going to be rough economically and socially. Now is the time to invest in yourself, your family, and your team. The author promises he’ll endeavor to follow his own advice.
Jonathan King is a consulting economist and Certified Professional Coach. His firm, Halcyon Consulting, is dedicated to helping clients reach their goals through accountability, integrity, and personal growth. Jonathan has 23 years of social science consulting experience including 16 years in Alaska. The comments in this blog do not necessarily represent the view of employers and clients past or present and are Jonathan’s alone. Suggested blog topics, constructive feedback, and comments are desired at email@example.com.