When Turkeys Attack
Each week, I summarize the latest economic news from Maine, and each week, I can hear my poor editor’s sigh of despair from clear across the state.
“Why can’t he ever find anything positive to write about,” she thinks. (That mind-reading course I took is really paying off. I get great quotes without bothering to conduct interviews – not to mention the lower phone bills.) “Surely he could find some numbers that went up this past week instead of down.”
Be at ease, beleaguered ed. This week’s statistics are almost all of the upward variety, starting with the unemployment rate in Maine, which jumped from 7.7 percent in January to 8 percent in February.
That’s the highest it’s been since Jock McKernan was governor back in 1991. I’d mention that the rate in Maine is still a tenth of a point under the national figure, but it seems kind of negative to say we’re below average.
Was that a sigh I just heard?
Wait, here’s some good news. Revenues at Hollywood Slots in Bangor were up in February, after several months of declines.
The $150,000 increase is being attributed to crowds attending the state high school basketball tournament. Weary of wholesome entertainment, these visitors flocked to the racino to squander their severance checks.
Did the wind just come up?
Let’s see, what else do I have here. Home sales? No, they were down 22 percent in February compared to last year.
The median price took a 17 percent hit, so maybe I won’t mention that.
Employment prospects at the University of Maine? Better skip that one, too. In order to cut nearly $9 million from the budget, up to 100 positions must be eliminated this year.
Maybe those academic types can get a job in a bookstore. Except I notice that Books Etc., a mainstay of Portland’s Old Port for 36 years, has announced it will close its Exchange Street store at the end of June due to the sluggish economy.
The Falmouth location will remain open, and the owner says he might try to find another spot in Portland in a lower-rent neighborhood.
Ah, I knew I had some positive numbers someplace. According to the State Police, the amount of child porn being downloaded by sickos in Maine increased more than 200 percent from 2007 to 2008.
The cops say about 1,500 freaks are responsible for most of this activity. Throwing them all in jail would probably overcrowd the prison system, so how about using some of them for lobster bait?
Speaking of which, the price of the tasty crustaceans fell by more than a buck a pound this past week.
Nobody seems to know why, although I’m inclined to blame wild turkeys. There don’t seem to be any official statistics on the problem, but it’s clear the number of vehicle collisions with these birds is increasing.
Who can settle down for a nice lobster dinner knowing that the ride home is going to be fraught with peril. Suggested title for the movie about this threat: “Revenge of the Thanksgiving Dinner.”
That sighing sound seems to have stopped, but I do seem to hear somebody sobbing uncontrollably.
Quick, some good news to cheer up that poor soul. The plan to build the world’s largest lobster roll at Portland’s Old Port Festival in June got a boost when Linda Bean, an L.L. Bean heiress and lobster wholesaler from Port Clyde, promised to donate the lobsters, the tent, the T-shirts and other costs of the event.
Now what we need is somebody to sponsor an effort to build the world’s largest wild turkey club sandwich.
Gov. John Baldacci has unveiled (metaphorically speaking) his new haircut.
It’s shorter on the sides (there was no way to make it shorter on top). Baldacci said it’s part of his effort to get motivated for this summer’s Beach to Beacon 10-kilometer race. Makes him more aerodynamic. Like a wild turkey.
I’m sure it had nothing to do with the disposal of the governor’s clippings, but toxic emissions were up in Maine.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported 99 companies in the state spewed forth 11.1 million pounds of assorted gunk in 2007, an increase of more than half a million pounds over 2006. The biggest source was the McCain Foods plant in Easton (who knew French fries were classified as a toxic substance), followed by four paper mills (none of which manufacture deep-fried potato products).
The toxic economy has hit some surprising subjects. The Libra Foundation, the huge charitable operation in Portland, has announced it’s cutting its scholarship program for kids attending summer camp in half due to declining investment income.
And former Lewiston Mayor Kaileigh Tara revealed that for the last few months, she’s been unemployed and homeless.
Tara, once considered a rising star in state politics, said she went public with her problems to show that the recession can disrupt anyone’s life.
Which is probably why my editor hasn’t quit her job and moved into a cardboard box under a bridge.
Fortunately, her patience in waiting for positive news is about to be rewarded. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (motto: Everything Looks Great To Us) reports that personal income in Maine grew by 4.1 percent in 2008, the ninth highest rate in the country.
In part, this was because the economic downturn hit other parts of the country earlier than here. The numbers were also influenced by Maine’s relatively low per-capita income ($35,381, which ranks 33rd in the nation) to start with.
Unfortunately, for both Maine and my editor’s battered psyche, the downturn caught up with us in the fourth quarter of last year, when incomes dropped an average of .2 percent and will likely continue in that direction in 2009.
At least we’ll be able to escape our troubles by going to a hockey game. The Lewiston Maineiacs, once believed to be headed for Quebec, will stay at central Maine’s beloved Colisee for, well … um, nobody seems to be sure how long.
But the club will be here for next season, anyway. The Maineiacs celebrated the announcement on the ice by getting swept out of the playoffs by Drummondville.
There, there, editor. There’s always next year.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.