The Maine Labor Department says the state’s unemployment rate rose to 7.8 percent in January, 0.8 percent higher than December’s rate and 0.2 percent higher than the national average.
“It’s difficult out there. It’s a tough job market around the state, the country and the world,” Adam Fisher, spokesman for the Labor Department, said Wednesday afternoon.
The preliminary 7.8 percent rate is 3 percentage points higher than the comparable rate for January 2008, according to Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman.
Worsening national economic conditions continue to affect Maine workers and employers, Fortman said. Maine’s unemployment figures are adjusted to reflect seasonal fluctuations.
In the past year, Maine has lost 14,200 nonfarm jobs in a range of industries, including transportation, manufacturing and construction, but there were some gains in educational and health services.
Nonetheless, the slight job gains in those fields have been far outpaced by job losses in others. Maine’s Career Centers and job bank Web site have been inundated by job seekers in the past few months, Fisher said. About 70,000 people have registered with the online job bank since its launch in November and greater demand has caused the state to add Saturday hours in certain Career Centers, including the one in Bangor.
“It’s a very busy time here,” Fisher said. “I wouldn’t say we’re overwhelmed, but the unemployment claims center has had very, very high claims volumes.”
Some of that is seasonal, he added.
More than 26,000 people filed for continued unemployment claims in the last two weeks of February — 10,000 more than filed last year at this time, Fisher said. More than 2,000 Mainers filed new claims, an increase of 507 from 2008.
The last time the state saw such high unemployment figures was in March 1992 during the recession. In 1991, the numbers were even higher, with 8 percent of Mainers unemployed, Fisher said.
He is hopeful that the federal economic recovery act will provide “some new opportunities.”
“We’re optimistic,” Fisher said. “We’re looking at the types of jobs that will be created. What are the skill sets of the workers that will be needed? What are the options that are out there?”
Fisher said Gov. John Baldacci has asked the Labor Department to identify the jobs and skills that likely will be needed in order to match Mainers with anticipated employment, especially in the construction field.
“This is a one-time deal,” Fisher said of the recovery act recently enacted by Congress. “If this can help jump-start our economy, we’re gearing up all our resources.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.