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The Madison Record

Memorial Day brought a (near) return to normal

So, that was normal — or at least a reasonable facsimile.

Across Alabama this past weekend, people marked Memorial Day weekend not in the fashion of the “new normal” — the “normal” of the COVID-19 pandemic that had dominated our lives for the past 14 months — but in the style of the old normal.

Point Mallard reopened, families went outside and enjoyed the mild weather, and solemn ceremonies honored the fallen soldiers, sailors and airmen who gave their lives so that Americans can continue to enjoy freedom and prosperity. The Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Festival returned, attracting huge crowds, and the only difficulties it encountered resulted from its old nemesis: high winds, which kept the balloons grounded Saturday and Sunday mornings. In other words, it was a return to normal.

Alabama continues to lag behind all other states, except Mississippi, when it comes to COVID-19 vaccination rates. Just under a third of Alabamians (29.2%) are fully vaccinated, compared to the national rate of 41.4%. And it doesn’t seem now that Alabama’s rate will get much higher, to the dismay of public health officials, who worry that the high number of unvaccinated adults in the state will leave it vulnerable to another surge, especially if the wrong mutated strain comes along.

But for now, things seem to be returning to normal, no doubt in large part because most of those in Alabama who have been vaccinated are members of vulnerable populations: the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.

Getting back to normal also means getting back to work. Businesses, in particular restaurants, that had to scale back services because of the pandemic are getting back to fully operational. Some, however, are finding it hard to attract employees. Employers and at least some economists are at odds over why. Many employers cite having to compete with expanded unemployment benefits they say pay people to stay home. Some economists say rather that wages are being bid up by an expanding economy, especially in north Alabama.

Here, as new plants like Mazda Toyota Manufacturing ramp up, they’re attracting employees with higher wages and benefits, which creates a kind of domino effect, as workers in lower-paying jobs jump into newly vacant higher-paying jobs, and leaving vacancies at the bottom.

But if that were the entire story, then service industries at the bottom of the pay scale might be having difficulty here, where new plants are opening, but not nationwide. Yet this is a phenomenon everywhere.

Regardless, as states like Alabama end their expanded benefits, we’ll soon see who was right. That’s another part of the return to normal.

Normal is good, and we should strive to keep it that way.

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