Important Details
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Consumer Confidence

The Zions Bank Utah Consumer Attitude Index decreased 1.4 points to 111.8 in October. The U.S. Consumer Confidence Index decreased 4.9 points to 98.6 in the same period.

Housing Market

In September, the CoreLogic® Home Price Index (HPI) for Utah, which measures home price appreciation, experienced a year-over-year increase of 7.8%. Nationally, the HPI increased 6.3% during the same period.

Inflation

The Zions Bank Utah Consumer Price Index increased 0.1 percent from August to September for a trailing 12-month inflation of 0.9%. In the same period, the U.S. CPI increased 0.2% for a trailing 12-month inflation of 1.5%.

Job Report

Utah’s unemployment rate decreased 0.3 percentage point to 3.4% in September, and the national unemployment rate increased 0.1 percentage point to 5.0%.

December 2016

Printer Friendly

Find out more about the latest employment, housing and other trends

See the Economic Snapshot

Randy Shumway January 2015

Utah Economic Outlook

Randy Shumway, Zions Bank Economic Advisor

“Each holiday market delivers tangible economic return in addition to the social and community benefit it brings.”

Around the globe, holiday events are successful not only because they invite community involvement and inspire traditions that bring people together year after year, but also because they generate revenue and create jobs. Such is true of holiday markets that occur throughout the state of Utah around this time each year—each one delivers tangible economic return in addition to the social and community benefit they bring.

Inspired by world-renowned Christmas markets in Germany, the holiday market at This is the Place Park just celebrated its fifth anniversary during the first weekend of December. According to the market’s founder Allyson Chard, by highlighting the Legend of St. Martin, Christkindlmarkt SLC aims to inspire people to serve. The story goes that when St. Martin was serving as a Roman soldier, a beggar asked him for help. Having nothing else to give, St. Martin tore his cloak in two and gave the man the other half. Each year, Christkindlmarkt SLC honors a different person in the community for their humanitarian efforts. This year Pamela Atkinson was honored for her work with the homeless.

Inspiring children to spread their light to others, Christkindlmarkt SLC also hosts a Lantern Parade in which children who have done some type of service can march. Vendors at the market are encouraged to perform community service prior to the market weekend so they can have an additional positive impact apart from selling holiday goods, traditional German food, and other cultural items. The service performed prior to the market and the volunteer hours put into organizing the market have an impact that is felt throughout the community. Since its inception, the market has grown by 30 percent each year, and it continues to attract visitor and community attendance.

Now in its 46th year, the well-known Festival of Trees fundraiser for Primary Children’s Hospital has grown from raising $47,000 in its first year to over $2 million last year. Held during the first weekend of December, the Festival of Trees is the largest annual fundraiser for the hospital. The Festival of Trees sells decorated Christmas trees, gingerbread houses and villages, quilts, wreaths, and other holiday-inspired items that have been donated by individuals, families, organizations, businesses, and church groups. The Festival of Trees fundraiser represents an annual tradition of giving for many families throughout Utah. Many of those involved have a personal stake in the success of the fundraiser because they have been affected by the care that they, a family member, or a friend have received at Primary Children’s Hospital.

Other holiday events throughout the state include the Dickens Christmas Festival in both St. George and Salt Lake City, the Ogden Christmas Village, Luminaria at Thanksgiving Point, Elf Scavenger Hunts at Gardner Village, and many more. Holiday events throughout the state collectively raise millions of dollars and strengthen local economies and communities. Beyond economic return for vendors and organizations, these seasonal fundraisers, markets, and service opportunities help residents feel anchored.

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Woman shopping and carrying bags

SHORT-TERM OUTLOOK

Wall Street markets registered gains the day immediately following the U.S. presidential election, signaling that investors remain optimistic about the future of the economy. The Dow Jones closed 1.4 percent higher, and both Nasdaq and the S&P 500 were up 1.1 percent. The dollar hit its highest value in nearly four months against the Japanese yen after falling 4 percent in overnight trading. Additionally, ten-year Treasury yields rose above 2 percent, which was their highest level since January.

Amid the initial sanguine reaction, many economists and market analysts expect more uncertainty to enter the market in the next few months. The overall economic impact of the presidential election remains uncertain. Initial reactions were positive but fluctuated in the days following the election. The global economy is somewhat in a holding pattern to see what will happen. In the immediate term, economists expect only one rather than three interest rate hikes in 2017. Merrill Lynch’s GDP growth expectations for the first half of next year dropped from 2.1 percent to 1.8 percent.

Despite the uncertainty of markets in the short- and medium-term, the U.S. economy entered November on a positive note. The initial GDP growth estimate from the Bureau of Economic Analysis for the third quarter of 2016 registered at 2.9 percent—the highest quarter of growth this year and 0.4 points above the expected 2.5-percent increase. The acceleration in real GDP stemmed from higher private inventory investment, more exports, and higher federal government spending. These increases were partly offset by a smaller increase in personal consumption expenditures and a larger increase in imports.

The increase in housing prices and values also bodes well for the U.S. economy. Housing prices expanded in October, and experts expressed optimism about future growth, according to an economic survey by reserve banks in the October Beige Book report. Ongoing housing price increases reflect greater confidence in the market and indicate continued progress toward reaching pre-recession price levels.

LONG-TERM OUTLOOK

Regardless of the political climate and events, there are several metrics that suggest a potentially stronger 2017. First, wage growth is beginning to accelerate. Wage growth decelerated between mid-2014 and early 2016, but now it is turning and increasing faster than inflation. Greater wage growth represents an increase in spending power, which may translate to higher consumer spending. On a related note, employment is increasing along with wages.

Second, retail sales are up. As of July 2016, retail sales were 0.9 percent higher than they were a year prior. Annual growth increased to 3.4 percent in September 2016. Since consumer spending has been the primary driver of GDP growth over the past several quarters, increased retail sales indicate continued GDP growth.

Third, manufacturing and purchasing have been growing at a relatively constant pace over the past few months and are expected to continue growing. This move toward positive growth is a welcome shift from the constriction of the manufacturing industry that resulted from the oil glut.

There are many factors that could affect the trajectory of the U.S. economy, and while there is still much uncertainty regarding the economy, the overall outlook for 2017 remains healthy.

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Utah Consumer Price Index rose 0.1% US Consumer Price Index increased 0.2%

Wasatch Front Consumer Price Index

The Zions Bank Wasatch Front Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased 0.1 percent from August to September on a non-seasonally adjusted basis. The index has grown 0.9 percent since the same time last year, which is below the Federal Reserve’s national inflation target of 2 percent. The national Consumer Price Index increased 0.2 percent from August to September and has grown 1.5 percent over the last year.

The increase in Utah’s overall CPI was driven by price hikes in several categories. Housing and education and communication prices rose more than any of the other measured sectors, each rising 0.7 percent. Swelling rates for telecommunication services, and slightly higher tuition at some elementary and high schools drove the increase in the education and communication sector. The increase in housing prices was driven primarily by rising apartment rental rates. The housing index includes prices for furniture, bedding, appliances, and maintenance, in addition to rates for hotels, motels, and apartment rent.

Recreation prices fell more than any other sector this month, declining 3.1 percent. Lower recreation prices stemmed primarily from lower subscription rates for cable and satellite television.

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National Unemployment Rate increased to 5.0% Utah Unemployment Rate dropped to 3.4%

Labor Market

The unemployment rate in Utah decreased three-tenths of a percent from 3.7 percent in August to 3.4 percent in September. The state’s year-over-year growth in total employment rose from 3.3 percent in August to 3.4 percent in September. Compared to a year ago, Utah has added 39,800 jobs to the economy, with the current employment level registering at 1,434,200. The United States’ unemployment rate increased one tenth of a percentage point from 4.9 percent in August to 5.0 percent in September.

Nine of ten industry sectors measured posted net job increases this month, although the natural resources and mining industry decreased by 800 positions. The largest private sector employment increases occurred in Education and Health Services; Financial Activities; and Trade, Transportation and Utilities.

According to the Department of Workforce Services, more than half of those who are entering new jobs are filling newly-created positions rather than replacing employees who have left. This is a promising signal that Utah businesses are expanding—adding new positions instead of simply turning over old ones—and continued employment growth is expected in Utah’s robust economy.

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Utah Consumer Attitude Index decreased 1.4 points US Consumer Confidence Index fell 4.9 points

Utah Consumer Attitude Index

The Zions Bank Utah Consumer Attitude Index (CAI) decreased 1.4 points to 111.8 in October. The decline resulted from less confidence in the present economy, which slightly outweighed greater confidence in the future economic situation. The overall CAI currently sits 3.8 points lower than its level 12 months ago. In comparison, the national Consumer Confidence Index® decreased 4.9 points from September to October and currently sits at 98.6.

The Present Situation Index, the sub-index of the CAI that measures how consumers feel about current economic conditions, decreased 3.9 points since last month but rests 3.2 points higher than it was at this time last year. Utahns believe the general business environment is slightly less favorable, with 57 percent rating business conditions in their area as good—a 1-percent decline from last month. Confidence in the current labor market is also slightly lower. The percentage of Utahns who describe available jobs in their areas as plentiful decreased from 53 percent to 52 percent this month.

Expectations for the next six months increased 0.2 points in October due to a slightly more positive outlook on future business conditions. The percentage of Utahns who think business conditions will be better in six months increased from 24 percent to 26 percent in October. Twenty percent of Utahns believe the U.S. economy is likely to improve during the next 12 months—a 2 percent decrease since last month. Meanwhile, the outlook for the labor market has declined slightly: 16 percent of Utahns think there will be fewer jobs available in their area six months from now, compared to 13 percent last month. Confidence regarding job security remained steady, as 79 percent of Utahns believe they are unlikely to lose a job they want to keep, which represents no change from last month.

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Utah CoreLogic Home Price Index increased 7.8% National CoreLogic Home Price Index increased 6.3%

Housing Market

Home prices rose slightly both across the nation and in Utah in September. Utah’s home prices increased 1.1 percent from August to September, and have grown 7.8 percent since September 2015. In Utah, home prices are forecasted to increase 0.4 percent this month and 5.1 percent in the next year. Nationally, home prices increased 1.1 percent month over month and 6.3 percent year over year. National home prices for single-family homes, including distressed sales, are forecasted to rise by 0.3 percent in September 2016, and by 5.2 percent from September 2016 to September 2017.

Although home prices remain 5.2 percent below peak values recorded in April 2006, the U.S. has experienced 56 consecutive months of year-over-year increases, including distressed sales, indicating progress toward a full recovery. A new peak level in home prices is expected to be reached nationally in October 2017. In Utah, the average new home listing stayed on the market for 33 days in the third quarter, compared to 48 days last year. With demand outstripping inventories in most areas of Utah, homebuilders cite rising costs for land and labor shortages as other reasons supporting gains in the housing market.

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Remote control drone flies over fields of lavender

How Will Robotics Propel Our Economy

Today’s reality is beginning to look a lot like the realm of sci-fi movies. We may not have flying automobiles (yet), but driverless cars are already roaming beyond the streets of Silicon Valley. Airborne drones help farmers increase yields and reduce crop damage, and warehouse robots are the workhorses of the most efficient e-commerce distribution channels. Automation is changing the way we do business, the way we work, and the way we live.

Technology has always been an essential driver of human progress, enhancing quality of life on an individual level and economic productivity for our society as a whole. The lightbulb enabled us to work, study, and play longer. The steam engine enabled us to travel and transport goods farther, faster, and cheaper. The internet enabled information to move freely in the blink of an eye.

Automating mundane tasks will no doubt yield similar benefits by allowing us to produce more with less work, but therein lies what could be a serious problem: robots and other automation technologies threaten to make a significant dent in employment. An Oxford study estimates that 47 percent of all jobs in the U.S. are at risk of elimination over the next 20 years, and McKinsey & Company substantiates this forecast, predicting a $2 trillion loss in annual wages. Routine blue collar jobs are already being displaced, and many white-collar administrative office functions are at risk as well. Some economists warn that with so many jobs on the brink of extinction, drastic policy measures such as a universal basic income should be considered.

History shows that when technology destroys jobs, it also gives birth to new jobs in fresh industries. For example, the internet made travel agencies, map makers, video stores, and several other industries obsolete, driving many into unemployment. But with the internet came the field of information technology. Now, IT employs nearly 5 million workers in the U.S., and these jobs pay well: the median wage for IT workers is just over $80,000 a year. Likewise, robots will create new jobs for those who design, operate, and maintain them.

Automation may even “insource” jobs that were once exported. Low-paying jobs that were previously outsourced to Asia could transition into U.S.-based jobs for highly-paid robot operators and software programmers. Thus, American businesses with laborers who are mostly offshore have the potential not only to become more competitive with the productivity gains rendered by automation, but they could also begin hiring more Americans.

At some point, employment turnover in dying industries will increase too much to be ignored. As budget constraints limit our ability to keep up with the need for unemployment benefits, we may have to simply reinvent unemployment. For instance, instead of providing indefinite monthly checks, we should offer assistance and retraining for the workers who are left behind by an economy of accelerating technology. Furthermore, we should instill in our children the value of lifelong learning. A student who prepares for one career may need to know how to adapt her skills to another by the time she graduates. Meanwhile, loosening labor regulations could slow the transition of work from humans to machines, giving employees whose jobs are in jeopardy the time to develop new skills.

The question of automating tasks is not if it will happen, but when it will happen. As with all major technological shifts, there will certainly be difficulties along the way, but the spirit of innovation is part of America’s DNA. Invention is not limited to roboticists and software developers; American workers—white and blue collar alike—will still be the heart and soul of our economy. Robots will simply help us push it forward.

Read more Read more
Volunteers work to fill cardboard boxes with items

Giving Season In Utah

While many of us are making plans for the holidays and purchasing gifts for one another, we’re also opening our wallets to charitable organizations whose missions we support. In fact, the final few months of each year are known as the “Giving Season” by the nonprofit community.

Why are Americans so much more likely to donate to charities in the fourth quarter of the year? According to the Winter 2011 issue of the Nonprofit Fundraising Survey, more than half of nonprofit organizations nationwide receive over a quarter of their contributed funding between October and December, and 16 percent of all organizations receive more than half of their annual contributions during that same time period. The timing of charitable contributions is likely a compound effect of the holiday spirit and the end of the taxable year. For taxpayers who itemize their deductions, charitable contributions must be made prior to January 1st.

The United States in general ranked second overall in 2015’s World Giving Index for charitable giving, and Utah ranked first overall according to a study on charitable giving published by WalletHub in December 2015. The same study found that Utah had the highest volunteer rate, the highest percentage of donated income, the highest percentage of population who claim to have donated time, and the highest percentage of population who claim to have donated money.

This says a lot about the state of Utah. While Utah residents have many reasons why they donate their time and money, their charitable contributions help sustain organizations that provide valuable services to local and state-wide communities. We’re all a little better off when we support those around us.

Read more Read more

Consumer Confidence

The U.S. Consumer Confidence Index® decreased 4.9 points to 98.6 in October. The Present Situation Index decreased 7.3 points to 120.6, and the Expectations Index decreased 3.3 points to 83.9.

Housing Market

In September, the CoreLogic® Home Price Index (HPI) for Idaho, which measures home price appreciation, experienced a year-over-year increase of 7.7%. Nationally, the HPI increased 6.3% during the same period.

Inflation

The U.S. Consumer Price Index increased 0.2% from August to September. Year over year, the index increased 1.5%, which is below the Federal Reserve’s target annual inflation pace of 2%.

Job Report

Idaho’s unemployment rate remained unchanged at 3.8% in September, and the national unemployment rate increased 0.1 percent to 5.0% in September.

December 2016

Printer Friendly

Find out more about the latest employment, housing and other trends

See the Economic Snapshot

Randy Shumway January 2015

Idaho Economic Outlook

Randy Shumway, Zions Bank Economic Advisor

“Holiday events throughout the state collectively raise millions of dollars and strengthen local economies and communities.”

Around the globe, holiday events are successful not only because they invite community involvement and inspire traditions that bring people together year after year, but also because they generate revenue and create jobs. Such is true of holiday markets that occur throughout the state of Idaho around this time each year—each one delivers tangible economic return in addition to the social and community benefit they bring.

Now in its 33rd year, the Festival of Trees fundraiser for St. Alphonsus hospitals occurs at the Boise Centre during the week of Thanksgiving. Throughout its history, it has raised more than $9 million dollars, and this year’s proceeds specifically benefit the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at St. Alphonsus. Individuals, families, organizations, businesses, and church groups donate items to be sold, including decorated Christmas trees, wreaths, treats, and arts and crafts. In addition to the market, the Festival brings communities together for local cultural dance and choir presentations, meetings with Santa, fashion shows, and Christmas villages.

Festival of Trees events occur in many places throughout the United States and Canada, including several communities in Idaho. While the St. Alphonsus festival is one of the largest Festival of Trees fundraisers in Idaho, others throughout the state benefit different causes. For example, the Twin Falls Festival of Trees benefits St. Luke’s hospitals, the Coeur d’Alene Festival of Trees benefits Kootenai Health, the Pocatello Festival of Trees benefits K-12 education in the Pocatello/Chubbuck School District, and the Idaho Falls Festival of Trees benefits people with disabilities by raising funds for Development Workshop, Inc.

The Festival of Trees represents an annual tradition of giving—thousands of hours and dollars—for individuals and families throughout Idaho. In volunteering, community members come together to support a shared cause. Many of those involved have a personal stake in the success of the fundraisers because they or their family members are connected to the hospitals, schools, and organizations that receive the funds.

Other holiday events include downtown tree lightings, “ugly sweater” fun runs, Winterland festivals, and theater and dance events in communities throughout Idaho. Holiday events throughout the state collectively raise millions of dollars and strengthen local economies and communities. Beyond economic return for vendors and organizations, these seasonal fundraisers, markets, and service opportunities help residents feel anchored.

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Father and daughter decorating a Christmas tree

Short-term U.S. Outlook

Wall Street markets registered gains the day immediately following the U.S. presidential election, signaling that investors remain optimistic about the future of the economy. The Dow Jones closed 1.4 percent higher, and both Nasdaq and the S&P 500 were up 1.1 percent. The dollar hit its highest value in nearly four months against the Japanese yen after falling 4 percent in overnight trading. Additionally, ten-year Treasury yields rose above 2 percent, which was their highest level since January.

Amid the initial sanguine reaction, many economists and market analysts expect more uncertainty to enter the market in the next few months. The overall economic impact of the presidential election remains uncertain. Initial reactions were positive but fluctuated in the days following the election. The global economy is somewhat in a holding pattern to see what will happen. In the immediate term, economists expect only one rather than three interest rate hikes in 2017. Merrill Lynch’s GDP growth expectations for the first half of next year dropped from 2.1 percent to 1.8 percent.

Despite the uncertainty of markets in the short- and medium-term, the U.S. economy entered November on a positive note. The initial GDP growth estimate from the Bureau of Economic Analysis for the third quarter of 2016 registered at 2.9 percent—the highest quarter of growth this year and 0.4 points above the expected 2.5-percent increase. The acceleration in real GDP stemmed from higher private inventory investment, more exports, and higher federal government spending. These increases were partly offset by a smaller increase in personal consumption expenditures and a larger increase in imports.

The increase in housing prices and values also bodes well for the U.S. economy. Housing prices expanded in October, and experts expressed optimism about future growth, according to an economic survey by reserve banks in the October Beige Book report. Ongoing housing price increases reflect greater confidence in the market and indicate continued progress toward reaching pre-recession price levels.

Long-Term U.S. Outlook

Regardless of the political climate and events, there are several metrics that suggest a potentially stronger 2017. First, wage growth is beginning to accelerate. Wage growth decelerated between mid-2014 and early 2016, but now it is turning and increasing faster than inflation. Greater wage growth represents an increase in spending power, which may translate to higher consumer spending. On a related note, employment is increasing along with wages.

Second, retail sales are up. As of July 2016, retail sales were 0.9 percent higher than they were a year prior. Annual growth increased to 3.4 percent in September 2016. Since consumer spending has been the primary driver of GDP growth over the past several quarters, increased retail sales indicate continued GDP growth.

Third, manufacturing and purchasing have been growing at a relatively constant pace over the past few months and are expected to continue growing. This move toward positive growth is a welcome shift from the constriction of the manufacturing industry that resulted from the oil glut.

There are many factors that could affect the trajectory of the U.S. economy, and while there is still much uncertainty regarding the economy, the overall outlook for 2017 remains healthy.

Read more Read more
US Consumer Price Index increased 0.2%

U.S. Consumer Price Index

The national Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased 0.2 percent from August to September on a non-seasonally adjusted basis. The national CPI has increased 1.5 percent over the last year, which is slightly under the Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target of 2 percent.

The rise in the all items index was driven by increases in the shelter and gasoline indexes. The gasoline index rose 5.8 percent in September, accounting for more than half of the increase in the all items index. The shelter index rose 0.4 percent, its largest increase since May. The energy index rose 2.9 percent in September. The index for all items less food and energy, a less-volatile measurement of prices, increased 0.1 percent this month.

Meanwhile, the food index was unchanged in September, with the food at home index declining 0.1 percent and the food away from home index rising 0.2 percent. Over the last 12 months, the food index has declined 0.3 percent.

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National Unemployment Rate increased to 5.0% Idaho Unemployment Rate stays unchanged at 3.8%

Labor Market

Idaho’s unemployment rate held steady at 3.8 percent for the third month in a row in September. Nonfarm payrolls increased this month, with a net gain of 2,000 jobs. The strongest gains occurred in the leisure and hospitality sector, which retained more jobs than expected for this time of year. The state’s seasonally adjusted nonfarm employment grew 3.2 percent since last year. Compared to a year ago, Idaho has added 21,500 nonfarm jobs to the economy, and the current employment level registers at 782,294. The United States’ unemployment rate increased one-tenth of a percentage point from 4.9 percent in August to 5.0 percent in September.

Idaho ranked third in the nation for year-over-year job growth this month. The state’s labor force participation rate, which remained unchanged at 64.1 percent this month, also outperforms the national average, which stands at 62.9 percent. A high labor force participation rate coupled with low unemployment indicates that even residents without jobs are encouraged by the state’s current economic strength and are still actively seeking job opportunities.

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US Consumer Confidence Index fell 4.9 points

U.S. Consumer Confidence Index

The Conference Board’s U.S. Consumer Confidence Index decreased 4.9 points to 98.6 from September to October. The Present Situation Index, which measures sentiment about the current state of the economy, decreased from 127.9 to 120.6. Meanwhile, the Expectations Index decreased from 87.2 to 83.9, indicating slightly weaker confidence in the state of the economy six months out.

Consumers’ assessment of current conditions was slightly less favorable as the percentage of consumers who felt business conditions were “good” decreased from 27.7 percent in September to 26.2 percent in October. Those stating current business conditions were “bad” also increased, rising from 15.8 percent to 17.7 percent. Opinions of the labor market were also slightly less positive—those claiming jobs are “plentiful” declined from 27.6 percent to 24.3 percent. However, those claiming jobs are “hard to get” also decreased slightly from 22.3 percent to 22.1 percent.

Consumers are less optimistic about the future, as indicated by the percentage of consumers who expect business conditions to worsen—up from 10.8 percent to 12.2 percent this month. Perspectives about the future job market are also slightly less favorable: those who anticipate more jobs in the months ahead decreased from 15.7 percent to 13.1 percent.

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Idaho CoreLogic Home Price Index rose 7.7% National CoreLogic Home Price Index increased 6.3%

Housing Market

Home prices continued to rise slightly across the nation and in Idaho in September. Idaho’s home prices increased 0.3 percent from August to September, and have risen 7.7 percent since September 2015. Nationally, home prices increased 1.1 percent month over month and 6.3 percent year over year. National home prices for single-family homes, including distressed sales, are forecasted to rise by 0.3 percent in September 2016, and by 5.2 percent from September 2016 to September 2017.

Although home prices remain 5.2 percent below peak values recorded in April 2006, the U.S. has experienced 56 consecutive months of year-over-year increases, including distressed sales, indicating progress toward a full recovery. A new peak level in home prices is expected to be reached in October 2017. In Idaho, home prices are forecasted to increase 0.2 percent this month and 4.9 percent in the next year. In a new report from Veros Real Estate Solutions, the Boise City area was ranked as the fifth-strongest market in the nation, with a forecasted appreciation of 9.7 percent. Low inventories and high demand are expected to continue to bolster an already-strong Idaho housing market.

Read more Read more
Remote control drone flies over fields of lavender

How Will Robotics Propel Our Economy

Today’s reality is beginning to look a lot like the realm of sci-fi movies. We may not have flying automobiles (yet), but driverless cars are already roaming beyond the streets of Silicon Valley. Airborne drones help farmers increase yields and reduce crop damage, and warehouse robots are the workhorses of the most efficient e-commerce distribution channels. Automation is changing the way we do business, the way we work, and the way we live.

Technology has always been an essential driver of human progress, enhancing quality of life on an individual level and economic productivity for our society as a whole. The lightbulb enabled us to work, study, and play longer. The steam engine enabled us to travel and transport goods farther, faster, and cheaper. The internet enabled information to move freely in the blink of an eye.

Automating mundane tasks will no doubt yield similar benefits by allowing us to produce more with less work, but therein lies what could be a serious problem: robots and other automation technologies threaten to make a significant dent in employment. An Oxford study estimates that 47 percent of all jobs in the U.S. are at risk of elimination over the next 20 years, and McKinsey & Company substantiates this forecast, predicting a $2 trillion loss in annual wages. Routine blue collar jobs are already being displaced, and many white-collar administrative office functions are at risk as well. Some economists warn that with so many jobs on the brink of extinction, drastic policy measures such as a universal basic income should be considered.

History shows that when technology destroys jobs, it also gives birth to new jobs in fresh industries. For example, the internet made travel agencies, map makers, video stores, and several other industries obsolete, driving many into unemployment. But with the internet came the field of information technology. Now, IT employs nearly 5 million workers in the U.S., and these jobs pay well: the median wage for IT workers is just over $80,000 a year. Likewise, robots will create new jobs for those who design, operate, and maintain them.

Automation may even “insource” jobs that were once exported. Low-paying jobs that were previously outsourced to Asia could transition into U.S.-based jobs for highly-paid robot operators and software programmers. Thus, American businesses with laborers who are mostly offshore have the potential not only to become more competitive with the productivity gains rendered by automation, but they could also begin hiring more Americans.

At some point, employment turnover in dying industries will increase too much to be ignored. As budget constraints limit our ability to keep up with the need for unemployment benefits, we may have to simply reinvent unemployment. For instance, instead of providing indefinite monthly checks, we should offer assistance and retraining for the workers who are left behind by an economy of accelerating technology. Furthermore, we should instill in our children the value of lifelong learning. A student who prepares for one career may need to know how to adapt her skills to another by the time she graduates. Meanwhile, loosening labor regulations could slow the transition of work from humans to machines, giving employees whose jobs are in jeopardy the time to develop new skills.

The question of automating tasks is not if it will happen, but when it will happen. As with all major technological shifts, there will certainly be difficulties along the way, but the spirit of innovation is part of America’s DNA. Invention is not limited to roboticists and software developers; American workers—white and blue collar alike—will still be the heart and soul of our economy. Robots will simply help us push it forward.

Read more Read more
Volunteers work to fill cardboard boxes with items

Giving Season In Idaho

While many of us are making plans for the holidays and purchasing gifts for one another, we’re also opening our wallets to charitable organizations whose missions we support. In fact, the final few months of each year are known as the “Giving Season” by the nonprofit community.

Why are Americans so much more likely to donate to charities in the fourth quarter of the year? According to the Winter 2011 issue of the Nonprofit Fundraising Survey, more than half of nonprofit organizations nationwide receive over a quarter of their contributed funding between October and December, and 16 percent of all organizations receive more than half of their annual contributions during that same time period. The timing of charitable contributions is likely a compound effect of the holiday spirit and the end of the taxable year. For taxpayers who itemize their deductions, charitable contributions must be made prior to January 1st.

The United States ranked second overall in 2015’s World Giving Index for charitable giving, and the state of Idaho ranked third overall according to a study on charitable giving published by WalletHub in December 2015. The same study found that Idaho had the fourth-highest volunteer rate and the second-highest growth in charitable giving from 2006 to 2012.

This says a lot about the state of Idaho. While Idahoans have many reasons why they donate their time and money, their charitable contributions help sustain organizations that provide valuable services to local and state-wide communities. We’re all a little better off when we support those around us.

Read more Read more

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