The Salvation Army’s Brunswick location has temporarily closed due to a labor shortage, according to the organization.

“Unfortunately, due to staffing issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, we were forced to make the decision to temporarily close our Brunswick and several other locations,” said Salvation Army Envoy Stephen Taylor in an email. “In addition to the employees who work in the store, there are drivers, sorters and others that help us keep the operation running smoothly.”

Taylor said the Salvation Army is hopeful that the location will be able to reopen on Tuesday, Sept. 21. The location first closed on Aug. 25.

The Salvation Army is an international Christian organization that operates retail stores selling donated goods. In Maine there are four Salvation Army stores, each of which have closed, operated with shortened hours and reduced staff at some point throughout COVID-19, Taylor said.

“It’s unfortunate because we know how important our retail stores are to working families struggling to stretch their budgets and make ends meet,” Taylor said. “We are certainly grateful for the community’s support—and patience—as we navigate these challenging times to help meet needs and change lives.”

The labor issue is not exclusive to the Salvation Army, as other businesses and organizations throughout Maine are also experiencing a shortage of employees fueled by the pandemic. Another example is Big Al’s in Wiscasset, which announced Thursday it will close by the end of the year.

“Everyone’s struggling with hiring right now, and people have different theories for why that is, and there is no one thing, there’s no one cure-all,” said Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber Executive Director Cory King. “For some people, it is some barriers, like housing and transportation and childcare. For other people, it’s a concern of working if they have an immunocompromised person at home, and so living in a time of COVID.”

The Maine unemployment rate in July 2021 was 4.9%. For comparison, in July 2019 it was at 2.7% and in July 2020 it was at 8.8%. Nationally, the unemployment rate in July 2019 was at 3.6% and in July 2021 it stood at 5.4%.

In August, Maine Center for Economic Policy Policy Analyst James Myall told The Times Record that there are several issues, some of which are ongoing and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, that have contributed to the current labor shortage.

Examples include the absence of younger, seasonal employees, the lack of younger international employees due to a pause in visas, low wages and parent’s inability to find childcare.

In Maine, the state’s aging and retired population also contribute to the shortage. According to a 2018 study by the Population Reference Bureau, Maine has the oldest population in the US, with 20.6% of the population over the age of 65.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Small Area Employment series, total employment in Maine was 653,500 in June 2019 and 631,200 in June 2021. Between the same time period, the top four industries that shrunk in employee size were accommodation at 31%, arts and recreation at 21%, food and drinking places at 12% and information at 11%.

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