Important Details
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Consumer Confidence

The Zions Bank Utah Consumer Attitude Index increased 0.1 point to 105.8 in February. The U.S. Consumer Confidence Index decreased 5.6 points to 92.2 in the same period.

Housing Market

In January, the CoreLogic® Home Price Index (HPI) for Utah, which measures home price appreciation, experienced a year-over-year increase of 7.0%. Nationally, the HPI increased 6.9% during the same period.

Inflation

The Zions Bank Utah Consumer Price Index increased 0.2% from December to January for a trailing 12-month inflation of 3.0%. In the same period, the U.S. CPI increased 0.2% for a trailing 12-month inflation of 1.4%.

Job Report

Utah’s unemployment rate remained unchanged at 3.4% in January, and the national unemployment rate declined 0.1 percentage point to 4.9% in January.

April 2016

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Randy Shumway January 2015

Utah Economic Outlook

Randy Shumway, Zions Bank Economic Advisor

“Utah’s economy is equipped for innovation and expanding industries that will provide jobs for the large number of young people entering the workforce.”

Last year Utah’s economy saw its strongest period of growth in the labor market in the last eight years. Additionally, Utah consistently registers in the nation’s top 10 for lowest unemployment rate and highest employment growth. While many factors contribute to economic success, the state’s demographics have a strong effect on the current status and future trajectory of Utah’s labor market.

Utah’s population reflects growth from both natural increase—the number of births minus deaths—and net migration. Currently, Utah boasts the highest rate of natural increase in the nation. In 2014, the fertility rate—the ratio of live births in an area to the population of that area—was 2.33 (which was actually a historic low for the state). In 2015, 69.8 percent of Utah’s population growth resulted from natural increase, and the high fertility rate makes the state population the youngest in the country. In 2014, the largest share of Utah’s total population was in the preschool and school age groups. In contrast, the smallest share of Utah’s population is working age, and its retirement-age population is smaller than every state except Alaska. For every 100 working-age people in Utah, there are 68.8 non-working-age people, which is also the highest ratio in the nation. This unique demographic means that even with a high rate of natural increase, it was doubtful at the end 2014 whether Utah would have a sufficient labor force to match employment growth. Fortunately, Utah’s swelling economy attracted a net in-migration of approximately 15,487 workers to the state throughout 2014. This population increase was necessary to meet the growing labor demands of Utah’s booming economy. At this point, urban populations in Utah are rising, and rural populations are declining. The Wasatch Front, comprised of Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, and Utah counties, is home to fully 76.6 percent of the state’s population, making the state primarily urban. However, in 2014, the state’s fastest-growing counties were located on the Wasatch Back, including Wasatch County at 4.3 percent and Morgan County at 4.0 percent. In contrast, various counties in other rural areas showed negative growth rates.

So what does this disproportionately-young, urban, fast-growing population mean for Utah’s economy? First, it means that Utah naturally has a tight labor market. With high job growth rates and a low share of workforce-age people, it is likely that Utah is reaching full employment. However, the pre-recession labor force participation was around 72 percent, and it is currently around 69 percent, so there is room for recovery. Second, it means that investing in education is vital to the long-term success of our state. With 30.8 percent of our population under 18, we need to ensure young people are developing skills that will be valuable in tomorrow’s workforce. Third, it means that we must make ongoing preparations for population growth, including developing water sources, transportation solutions, and air quality improvement methods that anticipate ongoing growth.

Utah’s economy is poised to support innovation and industry expansion to employ the large number of young people who will enter the workforce in the coming years. With continued investment in education, infrastructure, and employment, Utah will remain an inviting and economically-profitable location for our growing population.

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Buildings in downtown Salt Lake City

Short-Term U.S. Outlook

While economic signals are still mixed, the perspectives shared by economists have reflected a shift from a mixed negative outlook to a mixed positive outlook over the last month. Currently, three influences are significantly affecting the short-term U.S. economic outlook: oil prices and production, China’s market, and the Federal Reserve’s rates.

In March, crude oil futures jumped above $40 per barrel for the first time in three months after OPEC producers discussed setting a higher anchor price for oil. Ecuador announced it would hold a meeting with all Latin American crude producers specifically to discuss prices. Global crude oil prices have risen after reaching 12-year lows fewer than two months ago. The rise in prices reflects depreciation of the U.S. dollar and the drop in U.S. shale oil production, which is expected to fall for a sixth consecutive month in April according to the U.S. EIA. Total output is expected to shrink 106,000 barrels per day due to lower output in the Bakken formation, Eagle Ford formation, and Permian Basin. Some analysts feel it is too early to assume that oil prices are now on a steady upward track—the oil glut remains large, and there is no guarantee that a higher anchor price will immediately affect oil supply.

While China played a major role in market volatility earlier this year, it is beginning to stabilize. China set a growth target of 6.5 to 7 percent this year after growing 6.9 percent in 2015, its slowest pace in the past 25 years. Focusing on services rather than investment, China is juggling growth, job creation, and industry restructuring. Instead of repeating past mistakes—like pumping stimulus money into building ghost cities, roads to nowhere, and presently unnecessary airports—China plans to improve the efficiency of government investment with targeted spending. China has promised not to further depreciate the yuan, which should prevent a repeat of the market instability experienced in 2015.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the U.S. Federal Reserve is poised to have significant impact on the market. At this point, economic indicators have been positive: the labor market continues to exhibit growth, and GDP growth was higher than originally expected. While economic data overseas remains shaky, the Fed has alluded that their decisions will be made based on domestic data more than foreign data.

Long-Term U.S. Outlook

Federal Reserve officials expect the U.S. economy to grow about 2 percent this year, which will continue to push down unemployment and pull up inflation to the target 2-percent rate. However, tightening of monetary policy may be rolled out more gradually than originally anticipated in order to allow thorough assessment of global developments and their effect on the U.S. economy. The turbulent financial markets send mixed economic signals, which make it difficult to project timing for monetary policy tightening. In general, the U.S. economy is performing well enough, but it is too soon to say whether the trajectory will move upward or downward.

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

Wasatch Front Consumer Price Index

The Zions Bank Wasatch Front Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased 0.2 percent from December to January on a non-seasonally adjusted basis. The index has increased 3 percent since this same time last year, which is slightly higher than the Federal Reserve’s national inflation target of 2 percent. The large year-over-year rise can be attributed to the period of several months leading up to January 2015, which saw price decreases followed by a period of sustained price increases. The national Consumer Price Index rose 0.2 percent from December to January, and rose 1.4 percent over the last year.

Transportation prices contributed more than any other category to the increase in Utah’s January CPI—up 1.8 percent from the month before as vehicle prices, insurance rates, and airfare costs rose. Prices for flights outstripped falling fuel prices as airline fares typically lag behind falling oil prices.

Aside from transportation, no other sector rose significantly. The overall increase in Utah’s CPI stems from the combined impact of slight increases in prices for utilities, clothing, recreation, education, communication, and other goods and services. Food away from home, housing, and medical care were the only sectors that saw price decreases this month.

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National Unemployment Rate decreased to 4.9% Utah Unemployment Rate steady at 3.4%

Labor Market

The unemployment rate in Utah remained unchanged from last month’s revised rate, hovering at 3.4 percent in January. The state’s year-over-year growth in total employment dropped slightly from 3.2 percent in December to 3.0 percent in January. Compared to a year ago, Utah has added 40,100 jobs to the economy, and the current employment level registers at 1,380,800. The United States’ unemployment rate dropped one-tenth of a percentage point from 5.0 to 4.9 percent.

Annual data revisions indicate that Utah averages for job growth and unemployment through 2015 were 3.7 and 3.5 percent, respectively. With eight of ten industry groups posting net job increases this month compared to last year, the outlook for Utah’s job market and overall economy in 2016 is positive. Thanks to the thriving tourism and ski industries, leisure and hospitality saw the fastest employment growth this month. Construction was the second-fastest-growing sector this month since housing starts and business developments are on the rise.

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Utah Consumer Attitude Index increased 0.1 points US Consumer Confidence Index dropped 5.6 points

Utah Consumer Attitude Index

The Zions Bank Utah Consumer Attitude Index (CAI) rose 0.1 point to 105.8 in February. Increasingly positive perspectives regarding the present circumstances of the economy led to this slight escalation, but were counteracted by dipping expectations for the future. The CAI currently sits 0.8 points lower than its level 12 months ago. In comparison, the national Consumer Confidence Index® decreased 5.6 points from January to February and currently sits at 92.2.

Expectations for the next six months decreased due to a more negative outlook on business conditions, future job availability, and income situations. Compared to January, fewer Utahns think business conditions in their area will be better in six months—down from 30 percent to 25 percent in February. Twenty-four percent of Utahns think there will be more jobs available in their area six months from now—a 5-point decline since last month. In line with this expectation for fewer job opportunities, just 34 percent of Utahns expect their household income to be higher six months from now—a 2-percent decline since January.

The Present Situation Index, the sub-index of the CAI that measures how consumers feel about current economic conditions, has risen 4.4 points since this time last year. Fifty-four percent of Utahns rate general business conditions in their area as good—a 6-percent increase since last month and a 4-percent increase since last year. Forty-six percent of Utahns describe available jobs in their area as plentiful—a 5-percent increase since last month, and a 10-percent increase since last year.

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Utah CoreLogic Home Price Index up 7.0% National CoreLogic Home Price Index increased 6.9%

Housing Market

Home prices rose slightly both across the nation and in Utah in January. Utah’s home prices increased 0.7 percent from December to January, and have grown 7.0 percent since January 2015. Nationally, home prices increased 1.3 percent month over month and 6.9 percent year over year. National home prices for single-family homes, including distressed sales, are forecasted to rise by 0.5 percent in February 2016, and by 5.5 percent by January 2017.

Although the annual national increases for home prices are no longer posting double-digits, the U.S. has experienced 47 consecutive months of year-over-year increases, including distressed sales. While the national market has continued to steadily improve, the contours in home prices have shifted throughout the recovery. The shift favors Utah, as the Rocky Mountain states have seen some of the strongest home price growth in the nation due to particularly high demand and low supply of homes. Nevertheless, rising home values may begin to taper. With U.S. construction spending surging in January to its highest level since 2007, the housing supply may begin to rebound, thereby slowing price growth. Furthermore, instability in the national economy and a looming federal interest rate hike may put downward pressure on house prices.

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Montage of faces, shape of Utah

The Demographics for Utah’s Refugees

One important component of Utah’s demographic makeup is its refugee population. Since 1985, Utah has become home to more than 50,000 refugees, and it welcomes 1,000 to 1,200 additional refugees each year. Refugees in Utah come from countries such as Somalia, Rwanda, Colombia, Iran, and the former Soviet Union. About 70 percent of refugees who have received services from the Utah Department of Workforce Services have been women and children.

Utah recently made headlines late last year when Governor Herbert announced that the state would take in Syrian refugees. Refugees often come from war-torn countries and refugee camps that don’t have any modern conveniences. Many times, they leave their homelands with nothing more than the clothes they’re wearing. In collaboration with the International Rescue Committee, Asian Association, and Catholic Community Services, the Utah Refugee Center not only provides a safe haven but also helps refugees fully integrate into the community through education, work, and cultural understanding.

While refugees make up a very small portion of state-wide demographics, their impact on local communities is significant. They come with rich life perspectives, work hard to support their families, and bring diversity to Utah.

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Man sitting inside jail cell

Recidivism: What data and parenting can teach us about correcting behavior

The following article is the second of a two-part series addressing the principles of effective correctional interventions.

As a parent, I’m often guilty of responding to a child’s mistake by invoking punishment proportionate (in my mind) to the severity of the mistake. If the poor choice is repeated, I respond by merely increasing the quantity of punishment.

However, many parents I admire seem inherently capable of looking beyond superficial mistakes in order to investigate and address the root cause of a child’s poor choice. They also judiciously “choose their battles,” focusing specifically on things that matter most. The long-term result, not surprisingly, is that these wise parents kindly elevate their children to a higher long-term standard.

This same principle applies to our broken criminal justice system. When a crime is perpetrated, the instigator is punished. If the crime is committed again, the offender is punished more severely and often incarcerated. This flawed, one-size-fits-all approach creates a faux sense of security among the state’s population as fully 68 percent of offenders are rearrested within 3 years of initial release. Overwhelming data indicates that our current criminal justice approach does not work. Ironically, conventional punishment often perpetuates root problems, effectively ensuring that crime will be repeated. Everyone loses!

Admittedly, some criminals must be separated from society. But for others, particularly first-time offenders or those who commit less severe crimes, a more lasting approach is to tackle the root criminogenic issues, such as anti-social attitudes, peer influences, high-conflict family and intimate relationships, substance abuse, low levels of achievement in school or work, and unstructured leisure time. Behavioral change requires more than just punishment. To gather key data and identify which root problems should be addressed before an offender returns to society, an effective corrections program assesses the person’s needs upon prison entry. By providing a treatment regimen for the specified needs and tracking correlated behaviors carefully, the program monitors progress toward rehabilitation.

Prisons in Michigan have recently demonstrated how this approach can meaningfully combat recidivism. In 2003, the state launched the Michigan Prisoner Reentry Initiative (MPRI), which assesses convicts’ needs at prison intake and develops individualized programming. Research shows that prisoners who receive educational or vocational training are 43 percent less likely to become repeat offenders, so the MPRI offers training while prisoners complete their sentences. Six months prior to release, offenders work with highly-trained teams to develop specific re-entry plans that address housing, employment, addiction, and mental illness issues. After discharge, parolees receive services that support their pursuit of meaningful employment opportunities. With the help of their supervisors, parolees set measurable goals for which there is follow-up and accountability. Graduated sanctions mercifully yet firmly respond to undesired actions.

Michigan’s long-term, multipronged approach is highly successful by several metrics: three years after the program’s implementation, Michigan’s crime rate had fallen 13 percent. Before MPRI, half of all parolees returned to prison within three years; now, only one in three returns in that same time frame. As a result, the prison population in Michigan fell from over 51,000 to about 44,000 between 2007 and 2010.

One of the biggest challenges to adopting a support and training system like Michigan’s is sheer numbers. However, data from prison entry needs assessments and prison behavior can be used to select training and support for different individuals, and intervention-focused programs can be scaled appropriately. Data can help predict the best solutions for specific risk factors, such as lack of a high school diploma or GED, number of years in prison, and other variables. While volume will always limit correctional systems’ abilities to develop personalized solutions for each prisoner’s unique needs, data about common inmate characteristics can help programs provide the support and skills needed to reduce recidivism. As more states follow Michigan’s example, correctional programs are harnessing data to create individualized rehabilitation plans with society-scale results at lower cost.

Few states are better positioned than Utah to enact meaningful reform in implementing a truly corrective and redemptive system. The state’s policy-making philosophy focuses on root problems rather than symptoms, and on measurement and accountability to ensure social programs achieve their desired ROI. In addition, Utah’s cultural values harbor the core belief that people can and do change. Criminal justice is not merely smart economic and social policy, it’s a moral imperative. As a result of needs-based treatment, our prisons will be smaller, and our streets will be safer.

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Consumer Confidence

The U.S. Consumer Confidence Index® decreased 5.6 points to 92.2 in February. The Present Situation Index decreased 4.5 points to 112.1, and the Expectations Index decreased 6.4 points to 78.9.

Housing Market

In January, the CoreLogic® Home Price Index (HPI) for Idaho, which measures home price appreciation, experienced a year-over-year increase of 8.4%. Nationally, the HPI increased 6.9% during the same period.

Inflation

The U.S. Consumer Price Index increased 0.2% from December to January. Year over year, the index increased 1.4%, which is below the Federal Reserve’s target annual inflation pace of 2%.

Job Report

Idaho’s unemployment rate remained unchanged at 3.9% in January, and the national unemployment rate decreased 0.1 percentage point to 4.9% in January.

April 2016

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The latest employment, housing and other trends

See the Economic Snapshot

Randy Shumway January 2015

Idaho Economic Outlook

Randy Shumway, Zions Bank Economic Advisor

“We need to make sure Idaho remains a place where our growing population wants to live and work by effectively planning for population growth.”

January 2016, marked the third month in a row in which Idaho led the nation in annual employment growth. Idaho has also had a comparatively low unemployment rate the past several months, ranking 12th lowest in the nation at 3.9 percent. Idaho’s residents play a major role in the state’s overall economic performance. While many factors contribute to economic success, the state’s demographics have a strong effect on the current status and future trajectory of Idaho’s labor market.

Idaho has one of the youngest populations in the nation. Second only to Utah, Idaho had the largest population share of school-age children ages 5 to 17 in 2014. It also had the fifth-highest share of population under age 5, behind Utah, Alaska, Texas, and South Dakota. In contrast, Idaho has the second-smallest share of working-age population, and its retirement-age population is in the bottom third. Overall, it has the sixth-lowest median age and sixth-highest number of persons per household.

This poses unique advantages and disadvantages for Idaho’s labor market. One advantage is that a smaller working-age population leads to a tighter labor force and lower unemployment rate. Lower unemployment generally leads to higher wages, which can increase spending and boost the economy. However, if the working-age population doesn’t have the right skills, employers struggle to fill open positions. Thankfully, net migration can help cover the gap. Strong migration into Idaho in 2014 increased Idaho’s population by 1.3 percent, which was the ninth-largest increase in the nation and the highest one-year gain in six years. By the end of 2014, Idaho’s population had reached just over 1.6 million.

While many people are moving into Idaho, residents are shifting state demographics by moving from rural to urban areas. As of 2012 Census estimates, Idaho’s 11 urban counties accounted for 65.5 percent of the state’s total population. From 2011 to 2012, Ada County expanded by about 1.99 percent, and Canyon County grew by about 1.32 percent. Twenty-eight rural counties are shrinking, however, and 2012 marked the fourth straight year that rural Idaho experienced net outmigration.

So what does this young, increasingly urban population mean for Idaho’s economy? First, rural exodus means that these areas will struggle to find skilled employees to replace retirees. While some young people return to rural areas after college, the majority remain in urban areas. On the other hand, skilled workers are also needed in urban areas, and the tight labor market creates promising job prospects. Second,supporting such a young population requires that state leaders make smart investment in education to ensure children are prepared with the cutting-edge skills to contribute to the economy when they join the workforce. Finally, growing counties will need to continue developing infrastructure—like water purification and transportation solutions—in order to sustain the growing population.

Idaho’s economy is poised to support innovation and industry expansion to employ the large number of young people who will enter the workforce. With continued investment in education, infrastructure, and employment, Idaho will remain an inviting and economically profitable location for its residents.

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Rolling fields with hills in the distance

Short-term U.S. Outlook

While economic signals are still mixed, the perspectives shared by economists have reflected a shift from a mixed negative outlook to a mixed positive outlook over the last month. Currently, three influences are significantly affecting the short-term U.S. economic outlook: oil prices and production, China’s market, and the Federal Reserve’s rates.

In March, crude oil futures jumped above $40 per barrel for the first time in three months after OPEC producers discussed setting a higher anchor price for oil. Ecuador announced it would hold a meeting with all Latin American crude producers specifically to discuss prices. Global crude oil prices have risen after reaching 12-year lows fewer than two months ago. The rise in prices reflects depreciation of the U.S. dollar and the drop in U.S. shale oil production, which is expected to fall for a sixth consecutive month in April according to the U.S. EIA. Total output is expected to shrink 106,000 barrels per day due to lower output in the Bakken formation, Eagle Ford formation, and Permian Basin. Some analysts feel it is too early to assume that oil prices are now on a steady upward track—the oil glut remains large, and there is no guarantee that a higher anchor price will immediately affect oil supply.

While China played a major role in market volatility earlier this year, it is beginning to stabilize. China set a growth target of 6.5 to 7 percent this year after growing 6.9 percent in 2015, its slowest pace in the past 25 years. Focusing on services rather than investment, China is juggling growth, job creation, and industry restructuring. Instead of repeating past mistakes—like pumping stimulus money into building ghost cities, roads to nowhere, and presently unnecessary airports—China plans to improve the efficiency of government investment with targeted spending. China has promised not to further depreciate the yuan, which should prevent a repeat of the market instability experienced in 2015.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the U.S. Federal Reserve is poised to have significant impact on the market. At this point, economic indicators have been positive: the labor market continues to exhibit growth, and GDP growth was higher than originally expected. While economic data overseas remains shaky, the Fed has alluded that their decisions will be made based on domestic data more than foreign data.

Long-Term U.S. Outlook

Federal Reserve officials expect the U.S. economy to grow about 2 percent this year, which will continue to push down unemployment and pull up inflation to the target 2-percent rate. However, tightening of monetary policy may be rolled out more gradually than originally anticipated in order to allow thorough assessment of global developments and their effect on the U.S. economy. The turbulent financial markets send mixed economic signals, which make it difficult to project timing for monetary policy tightening. In general, the U.S. economy is performing well enough, but it is too soon to say whether the trajectory will move upward or downward.

Read more Read more
US Consumer Price Index rose 0.2%

U.S. Consumer Price Index

The national Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased 0.2 percent from December to January on a non-seasonally adjusted basis and has increased 1.4 percent over the last year, which is near the Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target of 2 percent. The overall food index was unchanged this month—increases for the food away from home index offset declines in the food at home index, and five of the six major grocery store food group indexes decreased. The food index has risen 0.8 percent over the last 12 months, while the food at home index has declined 0.5 percent.

The energy index fell 2.8 percent as all of its major component indexes dropped, and it has fallen 6.5 percent over the past year. The CPI increased overall since declines in the energy index were insufficient to offset increases in the index for all items less food and energy.

The index for all items less food and energy—a less-volatile measurement of prices—increased 0.3 percent in January, continuing the slight inclines seen every month since September. The increase was driven by higher prices for shelter, lodging away from home, medical care, apparel, and airline fares. Over the last 12 months, the index for all items less food and energy has increased 2.2 percent.

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National Unemployment Rate decreased to 4.9% Idaho Unemployment Rate steady at 3.9%

Labor Market

Idaho’s unemployment rate remained unchanged from December to January at 3.9 percent. January marked the third consecutive month Idaho has had the fastest employment growth rate in the nation, at 4.4 percent year-over-year. The strongest employment gains occurred in the leisure and hospitality, education and health services, transportation, and warehousing and utilities sectors. Information, mining and logging were the only sectors that experienced employment declines this month. The United States’ unemployment rate dropped one-tenth of a percentage point this month from 5.0 to 4.9 percent.

Between January 2014 and January 2015, 26,200 jobs were added to the economy, the largest January to January increase since 2006. Idaho spent most of 2015 close to full employment, with an average unemployment rate of 4.1 percent that changed little throughout the year. Total employment increased 2.8 percent in 2015, beating projections of 1.5 percent annual job growth through 2022. Meanwhile, the total number of unemployed dropped 12.6 percent last year, strongly positioning Idaho’s labor market going into 2016.

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US Consumer Confidence Index dropped 5.6 points

U.S. Consumer Confidence Index

The Conference Board’s U.S. Consumer Confidence Index declined 5.6 points to 92.2 in February. Both the Present Situation and the Expectations Indexes decreased, contributing to the overall decline. The Present Situation Index, which measures sentiment about the current state of the economy, fell from 116.6 in January to 112.1 in February. Similarly, the Expectations Index, which measures confidence in the state of the economy six months out, declined from 85.3 in January to 78.9 in February.

February’s assessment of current conditions was less favorable: the percentage of consumers who felt business conditions were “good” tapered from 27.7 percent in January to 26.0 percent in February. Likewise, more people stated current business conditions were “bad”—up from 18.8 percent in January to 19.8 percent in February. Just 22.2 percent of people thought jobs were plentiful in February compared with 23.0 percent the month before.

The biggest drop occurred in expectations for the next six months. The percentage of consumers who expect business conditions to improve decreased from 15.9 percent in January to 14.6 percent in February. Perspectives about the job market are also cooling—those who anticipate more jobs in the months ahead fell from 13.4 percent to 12.2 percent.

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Idaho CoreLogic Home Price Index rose 8.4% National CoreLogic Home Price Index increased 6.9%

Housing Market

Home prices continued to rise slightly across the nation and in Idaho. Idaho’s home prices increased 0.8 percent from December to January, and have risen 8.4 percent since January 2015. Nationally, home prices increased 1.3 percent month over month and 6.9 percent year over year. National home prices for single-family homes, including distressed sales, are forecasted to rise by 0.5 percent in February 2016, and by 5.5 percent by January 2017.

Although the annual national increases for home prices are no longer posting double-digits, the U.S. has experienced 47 consecutive months of year-over-year increases, including distressed sales. While the national market has continued to steadily improve, the contours in home prices have shifted throughout the recovery. The shift favors Idaho, as the Rocky Mountain states have seen some of the strongest home price growth in the nation due to particularly high demand and low supply of homes. Nevertheless, rising home values may begin to taper. With U.S. construction spending surging in January to its highest level since 2007, the housing supply may begin to rebound, thereby slowing price growth. Furthermore, instability in the national economy and a looming federal interest rate hike may put downward pressure on house prices.

Read more Read more
Montage of faces, shape of Idaho

The Demographics for Idaho’s Refugees

One important component of Idaho’s demographic makeup is its refugee population. Idaho became a haven for refugees as early as 1975 when Governor John Evans established the Indochinese Refugee Assistance Program. The program initially focused on refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos but has since expanded to provide services and assistance to refugees from other areas as well, including eastern Europe and Africa. Between 2004 and 2014, 38 percent of Idaho’s refugees came from Southeast Asia, 31 percent came from Africa, 19 percent came from Europe and Central Asia, 11 percent came from East Asia, and 1 percent came from Latin America and the Caribbean.

Refugees often come from war-torn countries and refugee camps that don’t have any modern conveniences. Many times, they leave their homelands with nothing more than the clothes they’re wearing. To resettle refugees in either Boise or Twin Falls, the two cities with refugee resettlement programs, the Idaho Office for Refugees works with four resettlement agencies: the Agency for New Americans, World Relief, International Rescue Committee, and CSI Refugee Programs-Twin Falls. The resettlement agencies help refugees fully integrate into the community through education, work, and cultural understanding. While refugees make up a very small portion of the state-wide demographics, their impact on our communities is significant. They come with rich life perspectives, work hard to support their families, and bring diversity to Idaho.

Read more Read more
Man sitting inside jail cell

Recidivism: What data and parenting can teach us about correcting behavior

The following article is the second of a two-part series addressing the principles of effective correctional interventions.

As a parent, I’m often guilty of responding to a child’s mistake by invoking punishment proportionate (in my mind) to the severity of the mistake. If the poor choice is repeated, I respond by merely increasing the quantity of punishment.

However, many parents I admire seem inherently capable of looking beyond superficial mistakes in order to investigate and address the root cause of a child’s poor choice. They also judiciously “choose their battles,” focusing specifically on things that matter most. The long-term result, not surprisingly, is that these wise parents kindly elevate their children to a higher long-term standard.

This same principle applies to our broken criminal justice system. When a crime is perpetrated, the instigator is punished. If the crime is committed again, the offender is punished more severely and often incarcerated. This flawed, one-size-fits-all approach creates a faux sense of security among the state’s population as fully 68 percent of offenders are rearrested within 3 years of initial release. Overwhelming data indicates that our current criminal justice approach does not work. Ironically, conventional punishment often perpetuates root problems, effectively ensuring that crime will be repeated. Everyone loses!

Admittedly, some criminals must be separated from society. But for others, particularly first-time offenders or those who commit less severe crimes, a more lasting approach is to tackle the root criminogenic issues, such as anti-social attitudes, peer influences, high-conflict family and intimate relationships, substance abuse, low levels of achievement in school or work, and unstructured leisure time. Behavioral change requires more than just punishment. To gather key data and identify which root problems should be addressed before an offender returns to society, an effective corrections program assesses the person’s needs upon prison entry. By providing a treatment regimen for the specified needs and tracking correlated behaviors carefully, the program monitors progress toward rehabilitation.

Prisons in Michigan have recently demonstrated how this approach can meaningfully combat recidivism. In 2003, the state launched the Michigan Prisoner Reentry Initiative (MPRI), which assesses convicts’ needs at prison intake and develops individualized programming. Research shows that prisoners who receive educational or vocational training are 43 percent less likely to become repeat offenders, so the MPRI offers training while prisoners complete their sentences. Six months prior to release, offenders work with highly-trained teams to develop specific re-entry plans that address housing, employment, addiction, and mental illness issues. After discharge, parolees receive services that support their pursuit of meaningful employment opportunities. With the help of their supervisors, parolees set measurable goals for which there is follow-up and accountability. Graduated sanctions mercifully yet firmly respond to undesired actions.

Michigan’s long-term, multipronged approach is highly successful by several metrics: three years after the program’s implementation, Michigan’s crime rate had fallen 13 percent. Before MPRI, half of all parolees returned to prison within three years; now, only one in three returns in that same time frame. As a result, the prison population in Michigan fell from over 51,000 to about 44,000 between 2007 and 2010.

One of the biggest challenges to adopting a support and training system like Michigan’s is sheer numbers. However, data from prison entry needs assessments and prison behavior can be used to select training and support for different individuals, and intervention-focused programs can be scaled appropriately. Data can help predict the best solutions for specific risk factors, such as lack of a high school diploma or GED, number of years in prison, and other variables. While volume will always limit correctional systems’ abilities to develop personalized solutions for each prisoner’s unique needs, data about common inmate characteristics can help programs provide the support and skills needed to reduce recidivism. As more states follow Michigan’s example, correctional programs are harnessing data to create individualized rehabilitation plans with society-scale results at lower cost.

Few states are better positioned than Idaho to enact meaningful reform in implementing a truly corrective and redemptive system. The state’s policy-making philosophy focuses on root problems rather than symptoms, and on measurement and accountability to ensure social programs achieve their desired ROI. In addition, Idaho’s cultural values harbor the core belief that people can and do change. Criminal justice is not merely smart economic and social policy, it’s a moral imperative. As a result of needs-based treatment, our prisons will be smaller, and our streets will be safer.

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This page was last modified on Thu Apr 28 13:43:02 MDT 2016