If no more is done to avoid it, a long, difficult recession is coming, as sure as a train in the distance coming down a track. The only question is whether we’ll get out of the way in time.

The shutdowns that started in March devastated the economy, creating the deepest recession since the Great Depression. But it could have been worse. Federal aid – largely universal stimulus checks and enhanced unemployment benefits – kept spending higher than it otherwise would have been, allowing the economy to make a small comeback.

Now that the aid has expired, however, and Congress has failed to replace it, the economic recovery is plateauing, with unemployment higher than at any time during the 2007-09 recession. About half of the jobs lost may never come back.

Without a boost from Congress now, the economy will likely backslide. A moderate recession will become a severe one – and most of us will feel the difference in our everyday lives.

In Maine, a moderate recession would cut state revenues by 5 percent or less annually through the next three years before the economy rebounds in 2024, a “stress test” of state finances showed this week. In that case, the state’s $258 million budget stabilization fund would be enough to cover the losses.

However, a severe recession would cut state revenues by 13 percent in 2021 and then more than 10 percent annually following that through 2025, the state found. It would evaporate the stabilization fund and force some combination of tax increases and program cuts. It would lead to job losses that would further stymie the recovery, and it would hinder for years the ability of state and local government to deliver services and position Maine for future growth.

This is true all over the country. Moody’s Analytics found that state and local governments have a combined shortfall of more than $500 billion through the summer of 2022.

Federal relief is the only way to replace that money, just as the unemployment benefits and stimulus checks are the only way to keep up the consumer demand lost to the pandemic and the related loss of activity.

Goldman Sachs economists said recently that with no new round of federal stimulus, the United States can expect a major decline in disposable income, leading to low growth and a much slower economic recovery. Other economists have said the same for months. CEOs of top companies, too.

After a silent period, negotiations on a new package from Congress resumed this week between Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who has been the Trump administration’s point person on a deal.

House Democrats on Monday unveiled a $2.2 trillion proposal that includes $500 billion for local and state governments, another round of stimulus checks, funding for schools and child care, and a new program to help restaurants harmed by the pandemic-related shutdowns.

Also on the table is a $1.5 trillion package from a bipartisan group of rank-and-file members of the House.

However, Republicans, who control the Senate, want a much smaller package, if they want one at all – many Republican members have been reluctant to compromise and seem ready to let the moment pass without action.

Either they don’t see a much worse recession coming down the track, or they don’t care. Americans need enough of them to wise up and help the country step off the rails before we all get hit.


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