Crisis Exposes Danger of Losing Foundational Jobs

As reported the Bangor Daily News, the COVID-19 crisis has exposed the consequence of Maine’s loss of foundational jobs. As the COVID-19 crisis unfolded in March, Maine’s one-week increase in unemployment claims was more than three times the national average.

As Maine’s economy has shifted away from producing goods and toward service-based jobs, especially those in the hospitality industry, we see just how vulnerable we are to changes in behaviors and spending patterns from people outside of Maine. These jobs are highly dependent on discretionary spending. And as valuable as they are in generating economic activity in good economic times, we see how quickly the economy sheds these jobs in economic downturns. The rate at which they will return in the future is uncertain, at best.

As unfortunate as these job losses are for the families who are impacted, larger consequences still lurk ahead. In down economic cycles, the loss of jobs depresses the tax revenue to government. At the same time, the demand for public assistance benefits increases. Just at the moment our government will be asked to do more for more people, it will have declining resources to work with.

On the flipside, foundational jobs are more resilient to economic shocks. Whether it is manufacturing, energy, transportation, construction, farming, or food production, foundational jobs are vital to sustain our way of living. They produce the goods that are needed both within and outside of Maine, regardless of the state of the economy.

Because they make things, foundational jobs can also pivot to meet the needs of the moment. Whether it is paper mills transitioning to making toilet paper or manufacturers that have changed their processes to make masks or ventilators, we see the resiliency embedded into foundational job sectors.

Unfortunately, Maine has not prioritized the protection of foundational jobs, which have been shed by the tens of thousands in recent years. And we don’t have a clear plan to bring them back to Maine, either in legacy sectors or in the newer and emerging sectors of biosciences and technology.

Instead, Maine has been overburdening a shrinking number of foundational sectors with higher taxes, more regulations and higher costs. These dynamics, combined with a shrinking workforce, are scaring away the private investment that is needed to generate more foundational jobs.

Foundational jobs for working people generate the taxes that pay for the public sector and allow the government to respond to crises and help those in need.  We need public policies that support foundational jobs.