Editorial: Desperate times and measures 

Last week, Governor Janet Mills announced a paid incentive program aimed at getting people back to work. Poised to give up to $1,500 to those who qualify, it aims to push up to 7,500 of the roughly 40,000 or so Mainers receiving benefits off the unemployment rolls and into the workforce in June and July.  

Say what you want about the approach, but it seems as if the old adage rings true here: Desperate times call for desperate measures.  

And, for those who have yet to return to the workforce, there are plenty of jobs to choose from.  

Right now, the streets of Bar Harbor are chock full of people looking to spend their money. With many forgoing travel the last two years, those unspent funds are now burning a hole in their pocket.  

Lobster rolls – yes. Ice cream – absolutely! 

However, when they try to book a table at their favorite restaurant, they are told it is no longer open on Monday, that the weekend brunch they enjoyed in previous years isn’t happening, or that there is a longer-than-usual wait for a table because of limited staff. If you think it is frustrating to hear this as a guest, we can assure you that it is harder for the business owner to willingly limit their hours when they know there is money to be made.  

It is estimated that the hospitality industry in Maine lost roughly 16,000 workers during the pandemic – workers that may not ever return for one reason or another. Hospitality is not the only industry currently facing employee shortfalls or competing for the same age-eligible workers, but it is probably the most visible right now because the summer tourist season is upon us and demand is already quite high. 

Maine has been inching closer to a seasonal labor catastrophe for some time. Newspapers across the state have not only reported on the topic for the last many years but have printed pages of help wanted ads for frustrated employers looking to attract workers.  

The competition for workers is fierce. Fast food joints are offering upwards of $15 an hour while jobs in construction – which is also seeing a boon of its own – are paying $25 an hour to its most entry-level hires just so there is someone to hold the other end of the tape measure. With both new home construction and residential remodeling in high demand, all the associated tradespeople such as masons, plumbers and electricians are finding themselves with more work than they can keep up with while having few skilled workers to call upon.  

The problem is multi-faceted and there isn’t one solution – or government intervention – that will solve it. Yes, critics of the so-called Return to Work plan will no doubt balk at giving those who have been collecting unemployment additional funds to return to work, but we commend the out-of-the-box approach and believe if it is successful, it will be money well spent.  

We also encourage those who can to take a part-time job at one of the many local establishments that are hiring this summer. Not only will that make a difference in their – and your – bottom line, but it will also help keep the community strong and the businesses open.  

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