Q&A with UCF economist Sean Snaith
Economics is a subject that most of us scratch our heads at, but for Sean Snaith, the director of the UCF Institute for Economic Competitiveness, it is a passion that has grown throughout a lifetime.
Ever since he became head of the IEC in 2006, Snaith has been made famous by his quarterly economic forecasts, which are picked up by news outlets across the globe, from Canada to China.
The Central Florida Future recently chatted with Snaith about the inspiration behind his unique forecasts and his interest in economics.
Central Florida Future: What first sparked your interest in economics?
Snaith: I grew up in Pittsburgh. During the 1970s, the steel industry went into decline. There were a lot of layoffs and high unemployment and that sort of planted a seed to better understand what factors drive the economy.
CFF: Why did you decide to come to UCF?
Snaith: I was at the University of the Pacific in California. I had started a business-forecasting center at the university and I was approached about an opportunity at UCF to become the director for the Institute for Economic Competitiveness. I looked around, saw that there wasn’t a university that wasn’t producing regular economic forecasts, and I thought that was a great opportunity. UCF was an up-and-coming university with a dynamic environment. And I saw this as a chance to be a part of something really unique.
CFF: You’re known for giving your economic forecasts funny themes like One Direction or Taylor Swift. Why do you do that?
Snaith: Well, I recognize that economics is not everybody’s cup of tea, and they might not be as thrilled by the subject matter as I am. I try to present it in a way that is unique and understandable for someone who is not necessarily an economist. It’s well-received when I present it in a more digestible format, instead of talking about straight data.
CFF: But why choose Taylor Swift?
Snaith: I have a pretty good sense of humor, so I work humor and anecdotes into the writing to help the numbers and the charts go down a little easier. Taylor Swift came from repeated exposure because of my two daughters and being forced to go to that concert … I called it daddy-palooza, the collection of shows that I was made to see because of my daughters. They sort of went from Sesame Street Live to One Direction in Tampa. I just had some fun with that.
CFF: Do you have any advice for students who are confused by economics?
Snaith: There are good professors at UCF. Talk to your colleagues; they can steer you in the right direction. We have to demystify the subject that oftentimes students don’t have much exposure to until going to college. I had never had any economics until I was forced to take a course as an undergrad and that sort of changed my whole career trajectory. I thought I was going to go to medical school … but after taking a macroeconomics course, those seeds of my childhood started to germinate. I was really fascinated by it. I changed majors not long after.
CFF: Do you ever get bummed out when you make a particularly devastating prediction?
Snaith: I grew up poor, so I know what it’s like not to have money and to struggle, so I’m very empathetic and I also recognize that there are people behind all these numbers. There are lives that are being impacted. The unemployment rate is an economic statistic, but behind that there are families and children that are impacted by movements in the economy.
Deanna Ferrante is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter @deannaferrante or email her at DeannaF@centralfloridafuture.com.