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Rebounding from the blows

A report in this week’s SUN indicates the local unemployment picture has brightened somewhat. While unemployment in Archuleta County remains above the state and national averages, any improvement is welcome. The May 2012 figure of 9.2 percent unemployment followed a decline of 0.5 percent.

Moreover, 2012 seems on the way to a year-end improvement over 2011. By May 2011, the five-month average unemployment was 10.68 percent and this year’s five-month average stands at 9.92 percent.

Kudos to all those working to move that figure downward. Too often, the hard work of many organizations and committees goes unheralded. In some cases, there is plenty to criticize, but one thing is for certain: Pagosa Country’s best interests lie at the heart of all the efforts. Among these groups we count the Chamber of Commerce, the Community Development Corporation and the Town Tourism Committee. The Chamber’s relentless dedication to the promotion of the local business community and its role in community events is exemplary. The CDC struggled to find its way in its initial year-plus of operation but has recently made a positive move, expanding the board to seven members, adding two new and qualified directors and looking for others to fill remaining seats on the board. The TTC continues to promote tourism in the community with guides, website presence and marketing, as well as to produce important signage and aesthetic features — an effort reflected in steadily increasing lodgers tax revenues.

Also worthy of mention are ongoing attempts by local government to raise the economic bar, as well as consistent efforts by members of our local business community.

Many residents of Pagosa Country have taken a blow since the Great Recession began five years ago. Not only has the job picture dimmed but the personal fortunes and stability of many Americans of working age have plummeted.

Note the changes, for example, in household net worth, the median average down 35 percent since 2005. Declines in net worth have hit all age classifications. But the hardest hit are the ones least able to weather the storm — the oldest and youngest among us.

Check the relationship between education and earning power, with those earning college degrees having a clear and increasing advantage over those with a high school education or less.

This indicates to us one of the areas where added efforts must be made in order to help propel Pagosans upward on the economic ladder and to ensure the area’s recovery is sound.

We live in a political environment in which there are effective proponents of the idea that we need fewer teachers and less money dedicated to public education.

We disagree with this and, at the same time, consider that public education, at all levels, must improve dramatically. We believe the first step in this process is to return more control to the local level for K-12 education, to lessen federal and state control over local school systems while securing credible funding to be used at local discretion.

At the local level, we need to continue to reshape curricula to meet developing needs as this young century ages. And we must demand more discipline and rigor in our local institutions. Further, there is a need to support moves underway in the community to provide more post K-12 learning opportunities (many via distance learning) so Pagosans can advance their educations and retrain for jobs that will be secure in the future. Notable among those working to this end are the Education Center and its higher education affiliates.

The rebound from economic blows is difficult, and long. But the efforts to stimulate that rebound are many, and any and all Pagosans who join in will make a difference.

Karl Isberg

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