Touting a decline in the state’s unemployment numbers, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said the state’s economy is gaining momentum after it — and much of life in the Show-Me State — ground to a halt earlier this year following the governor’s stay-at-home order due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The statewide stay-at-home order expired May 3.
After a tour of Klauber Machine and Gear Co. in Pacific Tuesday, Parson said Missouri’s unemployment numbers had fallen to 4.9 percent, and that the state’s economy was ranked in the top 15 for states that had reopened and recovered.
“That is good news for all of us. That means more people are going back to work,” said Parson, who toured the gear motor maker at 1101 Geartech Parkway, along with first lady Teresa Parson.
The unemployment rate in Franklin County remains higher at 6.8 percent, according to the most recent data from the Missouri Department of Labor.
The governor did not provide a source for the ranking he was referring to in his remarks, which included him also saying that Missouri ranked in the top five for economic recovery. The Missourian has been unable to independently verify either of the rankings.
The governor and first lady, who both tested positive for COVID-19 in September, wore masks during the tour. Medical officials say both have recovered from the virus.
Parson continued, “(It) is so important to me that we kept our economy going and to keep people at work trying to care for their families, of getting kids back in school, even in the middle of a pandemic. Looking back on it, I know we are going to be better off than a lot of the states because we did stay open; we kept trying to support our businesses and industries.”
Prior to the tour and in conversations with company officials and area state legislators, Parson criticized Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker and other Midwestern governors who have kept their states in more restrictive lockdowns. Those states’ governors agreed in the early days of the pandemic to coordinate a multi-state response to the pandemic, including when to roll back the economic restrictions implemented by the state governments in response to COVID-19.
“I don’t want to be the one to bail them out,” said Parson, who is in the final stretch of a hotly contested gubernatorial election between himself and State Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat. Polls show that the two are virtually tied.
On the campaign trail, Galloway and Parson have traded verbal punches, with Parson blasting Galloway as being more in favor of big state government, while Galloway has blamed Parson for the state’s response to the pandemic, including his refusal to implement a statewide mask mandate.
Parson on Tuesday did not mention Galloway by name, but he referenced his critics during his stop in Pacific.
“There’s no magic answer to this virus. It is a virus and in this political environment, everybody wants to blame somebody for something, but the reality of it is, this is a virus. We all have to figure out how we’re going to deal with that and what we can do as individuals to help one another out, but again, and still maintain our businesses, still maintain our education institutions,” Parson said.
He continued, “The good news on the economy is that things are getting better every day in the state of Missouri. We’re fortunate in that and we are thankful for that.”
Parson pushed back when questioned if he was concerned about the rising number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Missouri. Since March, 180,869 Missourians have contracted the virus, including 2,500 Franklin County residents. More than 2,600 Missourians have died from COVID-19 since March, including 42 in Franklin County. With 11 residents dying from COVID-19 since Oct. 1, this month is already shaping up to be one of the county’s deadliest of the pandemic, according to public health officials.
“And for me, I’m a little old school, but I’m not looking back,” Parson said. “We’re going to keep pushing forward, we’re not going to shut down the state,” said Parson, who added that the state has made progress in its fight against the virus, including increasing testing from 2,000 tests a week to 145,000 tests a week now. Parson said the state also has an adequate supply of intensive care unit beds and ventilators and that Missouri hospitals are not close to being overwhelmed, which is a narrative that Parson said is being “media driven.”
According to the Missouri Hospital Association, the state has 2,779 ICU beds and 864, or roughly 30 percent, are available. The state has 2,395 ventilators, including 1,647 that are in use.
Parson reiterated he was not in favor of mandating masks and would leave it up to individual Missourians on whether or not they should receive the COVID-19 vaccine when it is released.
“I would never mandate that every man, woman and child take the vaccine in the state of Missouri. That’s an individual right,” Parson said. “We will encourage you if you think that is the right thing to do, just like we do with a flu shot.”
The governor also pushed back when questioned about the recent uptick in new unemployment claims and criticized the press for a “negative spin off of good news.”
Per data from the Missouri Department of Labor, more than 10,500 Missourians filed new unemployment claims last week, which is the highest number of new unemployment claims since Sept. 5 when 10,800 Missourians filed for new unemployment.
The data shows that the industries with the biggest job losses were in the food service, health care and lodging industries, which have experienced periods of turmoil during the pandemic. More than 24,000 Missourians who previously worked in those industries filed for unemployment benefits last month.
“So let me tell you the worst (industry) that is going to be hit the hardest (during this pandemic) is the mom-and-pop businesses,” Parson said. “The hospitality side of it is going to be hit big time. We already know that from the hotel industry, to the restaurants, all of those things. That’s why it’s important to keep them open, to do some sort of business whether that is curbside or outside.”