Data in Uncertain Times

It has now been nearly six months since we first started realizing that the coronavirus was something that would have a direct effect on our lives. In that time, it’s been hard to keep up with all of the developments in the regional economy. While we can use the best data and get thoughts from the best minds, it’s all still guesswork.

In an interview with KDLH last week, we found some reasons for optimism. As bad as things have been, unemployment rates in the Northland have still stayed lower than national averages, and while we’re not at pre-pandemic levels, we have regained many of our lost jobs. Employment in hospitality and retail, the sector most ravaged by the pandemic, has rebounded amid the summer tourism season. What fall and winter will bring, though, remains an open question.

We’ll also face challenges simply in measuring our new reality amid a pandemic. Monthly unemployment data, which is usually about as up to date as information can be, can feel far behind the times. Later this month, the U.S. Census Bureau will begin rolling out its 2019 American Community Survey data, which provides an annual update on countless metrics of economic and demographic change across the country. This year, that update feels a bit hollow. The data will be a time capsule of a time before a global pandemic and subsequent recession, and while it will give us a good idea of where things were in 2019, it will not tell us as much as it usually does about where we will be going forward.

Data is an important part of how we tell our stories, but it’s important that we recognize its limits and understand it in context. The best reporting you’ll see won’t shy away from that uncertainty, but it will recognize those shortcomings and use what we do have to make the most educated possible assessment. Let us know if Northland Connection can be of help as you try to make sense our changing economy and world.