AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 7.6 percent in August, unchanged from July and just slightly higher than the 7.5 percent during the same month last year, the Maine Department of Labor reported today.
Nationally, the unemployment rate estimate was 8.1 percent in August, down from 8.3 percent in July and 9.1 percent one year ago, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“It’s an interesting time to look below the hood at the monthly workforce data to see what it’s telling us beyond the direction of the unemployment rate,” Glenn Mills, chief economist at Maine’s Center for Workforce Research and Information, wrote in an email.
The difference between Maine’s relatively stable jobless figures and the drop in the national figures has to do with labor force participation, Mills said. Over the year, the number of jobless people throughout the country not searching for work increased 2.7 million. Since those not actively looking for work are not counted as unemployed, the country’s unemployment rate dropped, he said.
Maine did not have a similar sharp drop in labor force participation to cause a corresponding drop in the unemployment rate, Mills said. “So, while the U.S. unemployment rate is down, it is based on something that is not good,” he said. “Maine’s unemployment rate is little changed over the year, but, relative to the nation, that is based on something good: people have not stopped looking for work.”
Mills suggests that a more useful tool for diagnosing workforce conditions is the employment-to-population ratio, or e-pop, which comes from the same survey of households as unemployment data. In Maine, 60.1 percent of residents were employed, relatively unchanged from the year before, and above the U.S. average of 58.3 percent. “For both the nation and Maine, e-pop has been virtually unchanged over the year and is nearly two percentage points higher here,” Mills said.
Among Maine’s counties, only Lincoln, Penobscot and Somerset experienced drops in year-over-year unemployment, with Penobscot posting the largest drop, from 8 percent in August 2011 to 7.5 percent in August 2012. Maine’s county unemployment figures are not seasonally adjusted.
Seven counties — Androscoggin, Aroostook, Hancock, Kennebec, Sagadahoc, Waldo and Washington — saw increases in their year-over-year unemployment figures, with Waldo County posting the largest increase, from 7.4 percent in August 2011 to 8 percent in August 2012.
Unemployment in Cumberland (5.5 percent), Franklin (8.9 percent), Knox (5.4 percent), Oxford (8.6 percent), Piscataquis (9.6 percent) and York (5.7 percent) counties remained unchanged between August 2011 and August 2012.
Compared to Maine’s neighbors, only Connecticut (9 percent unemployed in August) and Rhode Island (10.7 percent unemployed in August) fared worst. Vermont had New England’s lowest unemployment rate, at 5.3 percent, with New Hampshire not far behind at 5.7 percent. Massachusetts had an unemployment rate in August of 6.3 percent.