LaTurner finds silver lining in pandemic, raises concerns about effects of inflation in Kansas

By: - May 5, 2022 5:40 pm
U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, appearing Thursday at a congressional forum hosted by the Greater Topeka Partnership at the Topeka Zoo, says an increased bipartisan desire to be self-sufficient is a silver lining of the pandemic. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, appearing Thursday at a congressional forum hosted by the Greater Topeka Partnership at the Topeka Zoo, says an increased bipartisan desire to be self-sufficient is a silver lining of the pandemic. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — While the COVID-19 pandemic took many lives and left many businesses and people in precarious positions, U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner sees a silver lining in the growing emphasis on becoming a self-sufficient country.

For example, LaTurner touted the COMPETES Act, a bill that members of Congress have touted as a key to reinvigorating American innovation in the STEM workforce, recently passed by the U.S. House. He was optimistic the bill, which is headed soon to a conference committee, could make investments to address supply-chain issues exposed during COVID-19.

The science, technology, engineering and math legislation includes a $52 billion investment to produce semiconductor chips and $45 billion to improve U.S. manufacturing.

LaTurner spoke Thursday at the Topeka Zoo during the first in a series of congressional forums hosted by the Greater Topeka Partnership, a coalition of organizations focused on economic and community development. LaTurner, a Republican who represents the Topeka-area 2nd District in Congress, said the country also needs to create a more self-sufficient energy policy.

“I would like for us to get more of that energy here than I would Russia or Saudi Arabia,” LaTurner said, adding that “fossil fuels and nuclear energy have to be a part of our portfolio for the foreseeable future. Renewables, of course, will be part of it as well.”

The term “energy independence” has been tossed around frequently by D.C. politicians, especially as gas costs at the pump rise for people across the country. The term, energy experts argue, is more a political slogan than a technical concept with a clear definition.

Many Republican politicians have argued President Donald Trump met this goal, whereas Biden failed. But reviews of the U.S. trends in petroleum balance indicate the country has been moving toward this idea of independence since 2005 and is still doing so under Biden, despite some fluctuation amid the pandemic and war in Ukraine.

LaTurner criticized international agreements that he said give free passes to some of the biggest polluters.

Beyond supply chain issues at the national level, LaTurner said a primary concern he hears from Kansans is the high rate of inflation. The annual inflation rate in the United States as of March is 8.5%, the highest since December 1981.

The Kansas congressman credited fiscal irresponsibility at the federal level for the high inflation rate.

“It is affecting all of us every single day. It costs more to go to lunch. It costs more to go to the grocery store,” LaTurner said. “Even if your business is doing well, the input costs have gone way up, and there are massive labor shortages right now.”

Last month, Kansas labor officials said the state unemployment rate for March was at 2.5%, while inflation has eclipsed wage improvements, meaning a decline in real earnings.

The number of people without a job declined during the year, from 51,8000 to 36,200. Wages in March also were 6.6% higher than they were one year before, but the continued inflationary pressure has seen real hourly earnings decline 1.8% compared to March 2021.

Unemployment rates for March 2022 and March 2021 in major population centers are as follows: Wichita region (five counties), 3.6% versus 4.8%; Kansas City (five counties), 2.8% versus 3.3%; Topeka (five counties), 3.1% versus 3.2%; Manhattan (two counties), 2.6% versus 2.8%; and Lawrence (Douglas County), 2.7% versus 3.4%.

“I appreciate (LaTurner) calling attention to the various issues that are in profound alignment at (the federal) level and here on the ground on the issues of workforce, child care and housing availability,” said Curtis Sneden, president of the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce. “Many of our small businesses are still battling hard to emerge from the effects of the pandemic.”

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.