It’s been six months since the coronavirus pandemic led to widespread lockdowns and stay-at-home orders that sharply curtailed economic activity in the United States.
But the recovery from the pandemic-induced recession has been uneven across the country. There is one bright spot, though. While many state economies continue to operate well below their pre-pandemic capacity, Maine has nearly returned to business as usual.
That’s according to the Back-to-Normal Index, compiled by CNN Business and Moody’s Analytics. Using 37 national and state-level indicators, the index measures how far — or close — each state economy is to returning to its pre-pandemic condition.
Maine currently tops the index, operating at 93 percent of its pre-pandemic economic activity. New England states dominate index’s the top 5, with Rhode Island (90 percent), Vermont (89 percent) and New Hampshire (89 percent) following right behind Maine. Massachusetts, where the economy is operating at 76 percent of its pre-pandemic level, is the only New England state that fails to crack the top 5.
The U.S. economy at large remains at 80 percent of its pre-pandemic capacity, according to the index.
So why has Maine rebounded more quickly than other states? There are a few reasons, CNN reported.
First, Maine has seen far fewer coronavirus infections than other states. The Pine Tree State has the second lowest infection rate in the country at 36 cases per 100,000 people, according to CNN.
Still, health officials in Maine have warned that recent outbreaks linked to an Aug. 7 wedding and reception in the Katahdin region could undo the state’s progress in halting the virus’ spread. That wedding is now linked to nearly 170 infections and seven deaths. It also has been connected to several outbreaks in York County, where coronavirus cases are on the rise.
As of Thursday, there have been 4,962 coronavirus cases and 138 deaths since the outbreak began here in March, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Maine could thank its rural character for the low infection rate and faster economic recovery, according to CNN. More urban states, such as New York and California, struggled to contain coronavirus outbreaks and as a result have seen slower rebounds. New York’s economy is currently at 73 percent of its pre-pandemic capacity, while California’s is operating at 77 percent, the index shows.
Another factor that likely contributed to Maine’s faster recovery was the gradual approach state officials took to loosening coronavirus restrictions, according to the CNN analysis. That has helped Maine avoid the summer resurgence of the virus seen in Arizona, Florida and Texas, where thousands of new cases were reported daily at summer’s height.
Earlier this month, Democratic Gov. Janet Mills extended her civil state of emergency for the sixth time. It remains in place until at least Oct. 1.
Among the different factors contributing to Maine’s faster recovery, CNN highlighted a boom in real estate. The median home value in Maine has risen 7 percent from a year ago to $249,550, according to Zillow, which rates Maine’s real estate market “very hot.”
That appears to be driven by out-of-state buyers flocking to Maine from the big cities. Those big cities became coronavirus hotspots during the early weeks of the pandemic and many effectively came to a standstill as officials tried to halt growing outbreaks. And with more businesses transitioning to remote working, Americans are finding they can work from anywhere in the country.
That includes Aroostook County, where real estate agents are seeing the hottest market in years.
“There are more buyers now than there are homes,” Jim Shaw, owner of Northern Maine Realty, which has operations in both Houlton and Presque Isle, told the Houlton Pioneer Times in August. “That’s very exciting.”
Even Maine’s tourism economy has managed to beat expectations. Some Bar Harbor business owners report that their revenue could be down 40 percent for the year, but the tourism industry saw a general uptick in business as summer progressed. In Acadia National Park, a major tourist attraction on the coast, traffic was only down 10 percent in August, compared with the same time last year.
Still, the general consensus is that 2020 will be a less than stellar year for Maine’s tourism industry.
But even with the economic picture being rosier in Maine than in other states, many Mainers still remain without work. New jobless claims continue to tick down, but more than 56,000 workers filed to continue receiving unemployment benefits last week, according to the Maine Department of Labor. That’s well above the high seen in April 2009 during the Great Recession, when 28,564 out-of-work Mainers sought to continue receiving jobless benefits.