Editorial: Thinking of Labor Day a bit differently this year 

It’s almost Labor Day and the labor market is not without its challenges. During the last two years, we’ve gotten an entirely new perspective on what it means to be a worker and how critical workers are to every aspect of our lives. Maybe this year Labor Day will have a different and perhaps more significant meaning.   

We found out that all workers are essential and learned how disruptive it is when a workforce sector is strained.  

During the pandemic, we had the opportunity to see what life is like without a robust workforce. It wasn’t so rosy. Some of the impact was obvious. With restaurants forced to close for nearly seven months to dine-in customers, many workers sought other opportunities and were not available to jump back into the jobs they once held – even as the busy summer season got into full swing. We can’t blame them. After all, people want to work despite anecdotes to the contrary and the jobs that were restricted in drastic ways saw workers leave in droves. So far, they are slow to come back.  

Job losses have been heavily concentrated in the sectors on the economy where goods and services are delivered in person and where close contact with customers or other workers are essential to getting the job done. Beside hospitality, this has also significantly affected retail, education and healthcare jobs.  

The good news, though, is that the economy is rebounding. After many months of losses, we are heading in the right direction. In May, labor statistics began to significantly rebound. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity in the first half of 2021 has risen so sharply this it is close to eclipsing pre-pandemic levels.  

In Maine, roughly 620,000 workers report for duty each day, while the unemployed total about 33,000 and represent roughly 5 percent of eligible workers. In June, 3,000 jobs were added back to company payrolls – up nearly 50,000 jobs from a year ago.  

This alone might be reason to celebrate, but it’s still not enough. Help wanted signs are ubiquitous and business owners are having to make difficult decisions to curtail hours to keep from overworking the employees they do have.  

Right now, Maine’s state job board at Maine.gov lists about 10,000 jobs available. That is one job for every three unemployed persons. This means that even if every person who is currently unemployed were to return to work tomorrow, there would still be about 20,000 people who would remain unemployed.  

Maine is facing a variety of challenges that impact its employment landscape. It will likely take some time to shake out. But as we get a chance to reflect this Labor Day weekend, let’s take a minute and think about the essential workers that make life possible, and, whenever possible, thank them for their service.  

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