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Maine adds 5,200 jobs in September, but don’t take it to the bank

John Clarke Russ | BDN
John Clarke Russ | BDN
Kelly Boyer (left) and James Kent, both of Bangor, fill out online job applications at the Tri-County Career Center in Bangor on Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 22, 2011.
By Whit Richardson, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday that Maine had the country’s second largest month-over-month percentage increase in employment in September, adding 5,200 jobs for a 0.9 percent increase.

But Glenn Mills, chief economist at Maine’s Center for Workforce Research and Information, says to forego with the celebrations. The numbers don’t reflect reality.

“We’re telling people don’t make much of the 5,200 job growth,” Mills said. “It wasn’t real and it won’t be real in a month or two when they say we lost 3,000 or so jobs.”

Mills said the monthly nonfarm payroll job estimates released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics are notoriously volatile. Over time, they can be used to show valuable trends in the economy, but the short-term ups and downs should be considered with caution, he said.

A few weeks ago, Mills was watching the news after national figures were released that showed the U.S. unemployment rate had dropped by 0.3 percentage points, to 7.8 percent, and the economy had added 114,000 total nonfarm payroll jobs.

“Every single person I saw comment on it was wrong,” he said.

The talking heads on the TV were saying the increase in jobs was a result of an increase in self-employed people, he said. “It’s absurd and I heard that argument many times.”

As for the preliminary unemployment figures, Maine’s jobless rate was 7.6 percent in September, little changed from a revised 7.7 percent in August and up from 7.4 percent one year ago.

The U.S. unemployment rate estimate was 7.8 percent, down from 8.1 percent in August and 9.0 percent one year ago.

While the 0.3 percentage point drop in U.S. unemployment appears like a good sign the economy is picking up, Mills said that’s also an illusion caused by more people giving up the search for a job.

The drop in labor force participation was less pronounced in Maine, Mills said.

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, he said. In Maine, 60.1 percent of residents were employed in September, relatively unchanged from the year before. The percent of U.S. residents employed in September was 58.7 percent.

September was the 60th consecutive month Maine had a higher share of employed population than the nation, Mills said.

Maybe there is something to celebrate after all.

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