Almost two years into the worst global pandemic in a century, we all want life to return to normal. As of Nov. 10, the pandemic had infected 251 million and killed 5 million people worldwide. Here in Maine, more than 100,000 have been infected and more than 1,000 have died. But the pandemic has also affected the Maine economy, with devastating effects on many Maine families.

Workers in Maine are hurting. Maine’s pre-pandemic September 2019 unemployment rate was 2.9 percent. In September 2021, it was 4.9 percent. That translates into 13,500 more Mainers without work, and on Sept. 4, Maine workers joined the 7.5 million workers nationwide who lost their federal pandemic unemployment assistance.

In my community of Belfast, demand at the Belfast Soup Kitchen has doubled in just the last nine months. And the Maine Community Action Partnership, where I work, has seen an across-the-board increase in demand for services such as heating assistance, food delivery and rent relief.

Evictions stalk our communities. Nationwide, according to the National Equity Atlas and the Right to the City Alliance, 5.8 million households are $15.5 billion behind in rent – and half of those households have children. In Maine, 17,000 households are an average of $2,200 behind in rent.

Evictions devastate individuals and families. Children in homeless families experience a substantial decrease in academic performance that often leads to lower, career-long reductions in employment prospects and earnings.

The pandemic is also fueling budget challenges, as the federal government and state governments around the country struggle to keep up with the need for services and economic stimulus.

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But there’s good news. There is a solution. There is a way out. The data are clear. The way out – the way back to normalcy and economic health and vibrancy – runs right through greater vaccination rates.

A Sept. 16 report by the global consulting firm Deloitte ties higher vaccination rates directly to better economic performance, with economic forecaster Daniel Bachman writing: “The economy may well remain fragile until the vaccination rate hits much higher levels, so that people are comfortable returning to the pre-pandemic ‘normal.’ Continued low vaccination rates risk creating shortages of ICU hospital beds, closed schools, and people once again avoiding shopping and entertainment venues. As we’ve said all along, the disease is determining the state of the economy, and vaccination rates are a good indicator of whether the disease can be kept under control – and whether the economy will be able to fully recover.”

“Vaccine access has emerged as the principal fault line along which the global recovery splits into two blocs,” the International Monetary Fund said in an update to its semi-annual World Economic Outlook report.

Economic data here in Maine bear out the Deloitte and IMF conclusions.

At the high end of the Maine vaccination spectrum is Cumberland County, with 80 percent of its population fully vaccinated as of Nov. 10. Meanwhile, Cumberland County’s unemployment rate has risen from a pre-pandemic level of 1.9 percent in August 2019 to 3.9 percent in August of this year.

That may sound bad, but the picture is worse in Somerset County, Maine’s least vaccinated county, with only 60 percent of the population fully vaccinated as of Nov. 10. There, the unemployment rate has risen from a pre-pandemic level of 3.3 percent in August 2019 to 6.2 percent in August of this year.

We here in Maine know the way out of the economic woods. We know how to put our people back to work and take the pressure off struggling Maine families. It’s by getting vaccinated. Let’s do it for Maine’s workers. Let’s do it for Maine’s families. Let’s do it for Maine’s kids.

Roll up your sleeve, Maine – let’s get back to work.


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