Editorial: We must be different in a post-pandemic world 

Just as America seemed to have emerged from a decade-long economic downturn, with new businesses opening at a record pace and consumer confidence high, it seems that we’re right back there again.  

A life-changing event for sure, COVID-19 has left business owners scrambling to figure out a new way to serve their clients and has left many middle-income households reeling as they learn to navigate whatever this so-called new normal is.  

The crisis is likely to have a lasting effect on the economy. Moody’s Analytics has estimated that the first quarter of the year’s economy had the worst performance in modern history. Ouch. But, it stands to reason that if Americans—the economic engine of the country—are unemployed in record numbers, spending will decrease. In fact, in April, sales of clothing fell almost 80 percent, electronics fell 60 percent and many workers saw their household incomes fall as well. At the same time, food costs are on the rise and gas prices are edging up from an inconceivable low of $0 a barrel. (Yes, a barrel of oil hovered at $0 for a time in mid-April). 

The global pandemic has illuminated the weaknesses in our society and has shown what the government and economist should have known all along: that close to 40 million, or roughly 14 percent of the population, live below the poverty line ($12,760 for one person, $17,240 for two people and $21,720 for a family of three). Those living paycheck-to-paycheck comprise a large portion of society and are the ones most affected by a sudden loss of income. And, as paycheck-to-paycheck implies, there is little savings in those households available to weather months of income loss. While a one-time $1,200 stimulus check is something, it comes nowhere close to helping out the most vulnerable among us.  

As we emerge from this pandemic and its associated downturn, two things must change. Collectively, our society and government have to work together to find ways to lift up the most vulnerable so they can stand on their own and, individually, we must find ways to save more and put aside a reserve for future catastrophes. 

At $12 an hour, Maine’s minimum wage nets a full-time worker about $25,000 a year, or about $400 weekly after taxes. Many minimum wage jobs are those that have been considered “essential” during this health emergency, such as grocery clerk, fast-food worker and entry-level healthcare workers. Ask yourself if $400 a week is enough to live on?  

It is long past time to adjust the glaring salary differences between CEOs and front-line grocery store clerks in a meaningful way that allow each to live comfortably and to contribute to society.  

The old adage that ‘we’re all in the same boat’ has been turned on its head recently to show clearer than ever that some people are in a kayak and others are in a superyacht. But, hey, we’re all in the same ocean, right?  

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