According to the old saying, “As Maine goes, so goes the nation.”

But when it comes to the economy, the truth might be the other way around.

We were blasted last week with some shocking news about our national economic output. Gross domestic product shrank 9.5 percent in the second quarter, the worst such drop by far in 70 years. The only thing it compares to is the economic collapse that kicked off the Great Depression in the era before modern economic data collection began.

Meanwhile in Maine, the Legislature’s Revenue Forecasting Committee shared its projections of state tax collection, which lawmakers will use to balance the budget. They don’t see employment rebounding to 2019 levels for at least another three years, and the loss of income will result in lower income and sales tax collections, as well as a decline in economic activity throughout the state, adding up to losses of $1.4 billion over the next three years.

Since this is the second quarter of negative GDP growth, this downturn meets the textbook definition of a recession, but there isn’t anything in those books about a recession caused by a pandemic. We don’t know how long it’s going to last or how consumer or workplace behavior will be changed when it’s over.

What we do know is that while states like Maine followed public health directives and contained the spread of the disease, other states did not, and out-of-control outbreaks in Florida, Texas and Arizona are resulting in unmanageable numbers of new cases and unacceptable numbers of deaths, passing 150,000 last week and increasing at a rate of more than 1,000 per day.


Failure to control the virus when Maine and other states were taking the pandemic seriously means that Maine will suffer as the national economy continues to flail. We now know that the sacrifices we made in the spring were squandered by those who believed that a global pandemic is something you could wish away.

We also know that, at least economically, it could have been much worse. The federal government has not developed a national strategy to combat the virus, but it at least pumped trillions of dollars into the economy to prevent some of the worst outcomes of a collapse this steep.

Enhanced unemployment benefits and a new program that helps out-of-work contractors and freelancers kept millions of people from getting evicted during the crisis. Federal loans to businesses kept millions off the unemployment rolls, which are already at historic levels.

Unfortunately, Congress has not been able to follow up on its good work. A $600-a-week enhanced unemployment benefit was allowed to expire last week by the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate, giving 80,000 Mainers a pay cut in the midst of a recession. The Senate’s inaction will suck $48 million a week out of the state’s economy, money that would otherwise have been spent on rent or groceries, and its loss will ripple through communities.

Senators will be back in Washington this week to negotiate a deal with House Democrats and the administration. At a minimum, the new bill should continue enhanced unemployment, an extended moratorium on evictions and aid to states and municipalities to prevent a wave of public-sector layoffs that would put even more people out of work.

It’s important to remember that the virus caused the recession, and until we as a nation control the virus, no economic recovery will be possible.

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