THUMBS DOWN to the loss of 300 jobs at Verso’s Androscoggin mill in Jay, yet another reminder of the frailty of the once-dominant Maine paper industry, and of the need to invest in initiatives that help create the jobs that will make up for the loss of traditional industries.

Verso Corp. announced Aug. 20 that it would be reducing its workforce in Jay from roughly 865 to 565, and cut another 310 jobs at a mill in Kentucky.

The announcement comes less than a year after Verso closed its mill in Bucksport, putting more than 500 Mainers out of work. There are also regular, short-term shutdowns at the UPM Madison mill in Madison, which employs 225 people.

After the announcement of the layoffs in Jay, Gov. Paul LePage blamed high energy prices, saying it was the “cost of doing business in Maine” that is causing the cutbacks.

That’s one factor, and there are plenty of reasons for Maine to increase the amount of natural gas coming into the state to help lower the cost of electricity.

But the biggest factor for the struggling mills is the decline in demand for paper.

Demand for the coated paper made in Jay is down 4.7 percent in the first half of this year, following similar declines in 2013 and 2014. The decline in demand for coated and supercalendered paper, a cheaper alternative to coated paper that is made in Madison, has fallen precipitously in the two decades.

Couple that with increased productivity and use of technology in production, and you have a formula for far fewer workers.

Remember, with the announcement, Verso cut 37 percent of its workforce, half of it in Kentucky. This is not just Maine’s problem.

But there are some things we can do.

As a state, we need to invest in K-12 and higher education, to create a modern workforce. We have to properly fund research and development, to build vibrant, 21st-century industries. And we have to focus on growing Maine-born businesses, so that they can be the big employers of the future.

THUMBS UP to a decision from a federal appeals court that provides overtime and minimum wage protection to home health aides.

For almost 40 years, federal law exempted home health aides hired through third-party staffing agencies from wage and overtime requirements.

President Barack Obama changed that with new regulations four years ago, but a federal judge scrapped the new rules.

This decision overturns that first ruling, and will help provide stability to an industry that is growing in need but suffers from low wages, overwork and high annual turnover.

Home health care is the country’s fastest growing profession, and it is particularly necessary in Maine, to help keep our aging population home and out of costly nursing homes, both for their own and their families’ well-being, and for the financial solvency of our health care system.

But home health aides are woefully underpaid, with few protections. Many make poverty-level wages and rely on public assistance to get by.

It’s imperative that we build a strong home health care industry. They need higher wages, too, but this ruling is a good start.

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