They say the last few weeks was like reliving the late 1970s, but don’t believe the hype.

John Balentine, a former managing editor for the Lakes Region Weekly, lives in Windham.

Yes, we have a weak Democrat in the White House, gasoline shortages and concerns over rising inflation. But there is a big difference between then and now: employment. “Help wanted” signs are everywhere, which was certainly not the case in President Jimmy Carter’s era of “general malaise” and stagflation.

Help wanted signs dot nearly every highway and byway of rural, suburban and urban Maine. They’re especially predominant in industrial parks. I drove through the Gorham Industrial Park last week, for example, and was struck by the number of businesses seeking employees of all kinds.

I counted a dozen different companies that had eye-catching roadside signs advertising sign-on bonuses, competitive pay and benefits and top wages. One company even boasted its open position was a “dream job.”

All types of employees are needed by these desperate companies: construction workers, mechanics, CNC machine operators, fabricators, truck drivers, satellite dish installers, janitors and rug cleaners, among others. These are hard jobs. It’s the kind of work most people would avoid if they could. But these are the jobs that keep Maine’s basic infrastructure strong. These are also the “essential workers” who kept us going in the pandemic.

It’s not just skilled laborers that are needed. Supermarkets, retailers and restaurants are advertising – fruitlessly in many cases – for new employees in an attempt to prepare for Maine’s busy summer tourist season.

Thankfully, just in time for summer, Maine will require those receiving unemployment assistance to prove they are looking for work starting May 23. Of course, this self-reporting system is easily manipulated, but it’s a step in the right direction.

So, why are companies having such a hard time recruiting? The answer to that is simple: The government is already “employing” any would-be job-seekers.

The state and federal government is giving people top pay and benefits through the enhanced unemployment benefits package that came into effect at the start of the pandemic, and there’s simply no reason for these “employees” to go back to work.

It’s never been more clear than in the coronavirus era that the government is actively working against private enterprise. Led by Democrat (and aided by statist Republican) tax-and-spenders, they uphold and expand the welfare society whenever they can because it means more dependence on, and votes for, their party.

Unemployed Mainers earn an additional $600 each week, thanks to the “enhanced unemployment assistance” provided by President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, signed into law March 11.

Biden extended the program from President Trump’s initial 50-week limit to 79 weeks, meaning recipients don’t have to return to work until September, conveniently at the end of Maine’s important tourist season when unskilled workers are truly needed.

And, don’t forget, that $600 comes on top of the average $358 Mainers receive in unemployment assistance, according to the Maine Department of Labor. The unemployed have become rich indeed in this topsy-turvy, mad, mad, mad COVID world.

While we are still experiencing coronavirus cases and deaths, for all practical purposes the COVID threat is over, thanks to miracle vaccinations. With the panic over, everyone needs to do their part to make America strong. But this won’t happen if the government encourages healthy, but lazy, people to skip work.

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