Report shows Maine job losses worst in nation per capita

By Matt Wickenheiser, BDN Staff
Posted Feb. 08, 2012, at 5:52 p.m.

A new analysis by the Maine Center for Economic Policy suggests the state lost more jobs per capita in 2011 than every other state in the nation, shedding 7,200 jobs, but the Maine Department of Labor refuted those numbers, saying they’re based on faulty federal data.

The center looked at federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data in its analysis, charting Maine job numbers from January 2011 to December 2011. According to the center’s analysis released Wednesday, six states lost jobs in 2011: Maine, Alaska, Missouri, Delaware, Vermont and Wisconsin.

In Maine, the center wrote, 1,600 construction jobs were lost, a 6.1 percent decline; 4,200 state and local government jobs were lost, a 4.8 percent decline; 1,300 professional and business services jobs were lost, a 2.3 percent decline; 1,000 manufacturing jobs were lost, a 1.9 percent decline; 1,500 trade, transportation and utilities jobs were lost; a 1.3 percent decline; and 600 hospitality and leisure jobs were lost, a 1 percent drop.

Maine gained jobs in two sectors, the analysis found. There were 2,600 education and health services jobs added in 2011, a growth of 2.2 percent. And financial sector jobs grew by 800, a 2.6 percent increase.

Maine Department of Labor spokesman Adam Fisher said his department’s economists had concerns about the January 2011 estimates when they first were published. The January numbers, he said, showed the largest month-over-month job gain in Maine history. That was followed in proceeding months by a big drop in jobs, erasing the supposed gains, Fisher said.

According to Fisher, between December 2010 and January 2011, the federal estimates said that nonfarm jobs increased by 7,300. Then February 2011 showed a 1,300-job loss, and March showed a 4,800-job loss, said Fisher.

“Even during the peak of the recession, late 2008 and early 2009, when Maine and the U.S. experienced huge job losses, we never had 4,800 jobs lost in one month,” Fisher said in a statement.

The department’s contention, said Fisher, is that neither the big jump nor the big decreases ever actually happened.

Those federal numbers come from a survey of about 2,500 businesses in Maine and are reinforced later in the year with actual payroll data, Fisher said.

“We now know, based on actual payroll data (not estimates) that the January estimates were not an accurate reflection of what was actually happening in the economy at the time,” wrote Fisher in a statement. “If you look at December 2010 to December 2011, you actually see a small rise over the year. Every February we do a year-end revision of the non-farm estimates based on the newer numbers we have on hand and we expect that non-farm jobs were probably stable during 2011 — maybe a small gain, maybe a small loss.”

Fisher said the state department brought the issue up with federal labor officials, suggesting that the numbers weren’t accurately reflecting the reality in Maine. He provided an email that Glenn Mills, director of economic research at the Department of Labor’s Center for Workforce Research & Information, sent to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In it, Mills charges that the federal program that relies on the survey of businesses wasn’t producing good data for Maine.

“Presenting to users a trend we know to be outside the bounds of reality does a disservice to them as they draw incorrect conclusions, not realizing the data government agencies are providing is of such poor quality,” Mills wrote. “The volatility and false signals coming from the program are at odds with the very purpose of the Current Employment Statistics program, which was designed to provide the closest to real-time indication of the employment situation. Monthly surges up and down confuse the very people who the program is designed to provide a valuable service for.”

Garrett Martin, Maine Center for Economic Policy executive director, noted that the numbers — including the blip — are subject to revision in the next month.

“I would stand by the analysis that would say we have lost 7,200 jobs since January 2011, and I would also acknowledge that these numbers may change when they are revised by the [Bureau of Labor Statistics] in March,” said Martin.

But, he suggested, those numbers could be revised up or down. So the job losses may look better or worse, he said.

Martin said that while “one can make the claim that the 7,200 number is artificially inflated because of a statistical blip that occurred in January 2011, that’s not ultimately what’s at issue.”

“To me, what’s ultimately at issue, regardless of where your reference point is in terms of Maine’s performance in the last year, we are well behind where other states are with regard to jobs, and there are choices we are making as a state that have the potential to improve our jobs picture, or have the potential to undermine our future prospects — quite frankly, whether it’s 7,200 jobs lost from January 2011 to December 2011 or 100 jobs gained.”

Martin said the center used January 2011 as a starting point because it was the start of the calendar year and because that was when Gov. Paul LePage first took office.

“If the reference point changes, we may not rank 50th, but we’re still in the bottom tier,” said Martin.

If the reference point is December 2010, comparing to December 2011, Martin noted, Maine saw a small increase of 100 jobs, “and Maine still ranks 45th in the nation in terms of percentage of jobs change.”

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/02/08/business/2011-job-numbers-criticized-contested/ printed on August 23, 2014