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News-Gazette: Hard times getting a bit easier
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News-Gazette: Hard times getting a bit easier

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This editorial appeared in the Sept. 5, 2020, edition of The (Champaign) News-Gazette:

Things are getting better on the fiscal front, according to an analysis of revenue trends conducted by the University of Illinois. But the state is still underwater, and it’s apparently going to take a while to recover from the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus and subsequent economic lockdown.

The latest UI Flash Index — one analyzing trends in July — shows a slight improvement — from 93.1 in June to 93.9. Both figures are better than the 92.8 rating in May.

Those numbers probably won’t mean much to the average citizen. But J. Fred Giertz of the UI’s Institute of Government and Public Affairs explained.

“Despite some recovery in the last two months, the index is still below the 100 dividing line between economic growth and decline,” he said.

The Flash Index, according to Giertz, is a “weighted average of Illinois growth rates in corporate earnings, consumer spending and personal income as estimated from receipts for corporate income, individual income and retail sales taxes.”

Additional numbers reveal the extent of the collateral damage caused by the economic lock down put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

In July 2019, Illinois’ unemployment rate hovered around 5 percent and was dropping. In July 2020, it stood at 14.6 percent, a horrific number but slightly better than the June 2020 rate of 15.3 percent.

Those numbers represent the lives of many thousands of Illinoisans whose way of life has been turned down. They further represent a serious decline in the number of people who pay taxes that keep the government running and spend their disposable income in ways that keep businesses afloat.

The impact of taxes not paid and income not spent has been catastrophic.

Just this week, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that her city budget is $3 billion-plus in the hole. At the same time, the state of Illinois faces similar financial shortfalls.

Both the mayor and the governor are hoping for a financial bailout from the federal government, which also has been devastated by the coronavirus fallout.

Unfortunately, there’s no end in sight to the economic, social and public-health fallout. As government restrictions have eased, so have the rules surrounding the economic lockdown. But not only has the virus not gone away, it has also resurged in some areas — to the point that public officials have tightened the restrictions they previously had loosened.

Where this all goes is impossible to say. But serious problems persist, even if they are only slightly less serious than they were a few months ago.

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