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Pandemic, politics, public education all had rocky runs last year as problems continued to mount.

COURTESY PHOTO: HILLSBORO SCHOOL DISTRICT - A snapshot of the pandemic/academic year: A student at Orenco Elementary School in Hillsboro receives hand sanitizer outside a school bus on the first day of school Sept. 9.The year 2021 was promised to be one of steady recovery, healing and a return to normal. Instead, there was only qualified progress and continued uncertainty, with the good news — of which there was some — soured by setbacks and new challenges, both nationally and locally. And the year ended with panic over the omicron variant of COVID-19, seemingly thrusting everyone back into the earliest days of the pandemic.

The new year dawned with the arrival of vaccines that promised to vanquish COVID-19, a newly elected president who pledged to bring the country together, and an economy that seemed ready to roar. Family gatherings resumed, schools reopened, and large events began happening again. Average Oregon household incomes increased over the year, and the state's COVID-19 death rate was below the national average.

But the year seemingly ended up on the rocks. Vaccine resistance, breakthrough cases, and new variants proved there was no miracle cure for the pandemic. The nation was still politically divided with bipartisan agreements few and far between. Although unemployment fell over the past year, most government and corporate offices have still not reopened. Some schools closed again because of teacher stress and student behavior problems blamed on a year-plus of remote learning.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Pamela Stone receives the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at the OHSU Airport Vaccination Site in April. The Port of Portland, OHSU and Red Cross teamed up to vaccinate people in more than 5,000 cars per day, served by an army of volunteers.Government responses have been mixed. Massive federal spending increases boosted average household incomes and created state and local government budget surpluses. But it took months for Congress to pass a bipartisan infrastructure spending bill that had majority support. Oregon Democrats broke a bipartisan agreement over redrawing congressional districts, even though it eventually was upheld. And the year in Oregon ended with Legislature meeting in special session to once again prevent pandemic-related evictions.

Some problems have even grown worse, both locally and nationally. Homicides, drug overdose deaths and traffic fatalities are skyrocketing. There are more visibly homeless people in the metro region than ever before, despite a huge influx of money — including both Portland and Metro voter-approved ballot measures — meant to reduce it. Even well-intentioned small steps — like Commissioner Dan Ryan's proposal to open six Safe Rest Villages throughout the city – have stalled.

If 2021 wasn't the year anyone wanted, maybe it was the best we should have realistically expected. But it should tempter expectations in 2022 as we head into the next round of local, regional and national election, in which candidates will be promising to solve all our problems.


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