June 22, 2018
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Maine jobless rate reaches four-year low

By Whit Richardson, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s unemployment rate was 6.9 percent in April, falling below 7 percent for the first time since December 2008, according to preliminary estimates released Friday by the Maine Department of Labor.

April’s unemployment rate represents a decrease from 7.1 percent in March and 7.3 percent in April 2012, according to the Labor Department. An estimated 48,600 Mainers were unemployed in April, down 3,100 versus last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Preliminary unemployment rate estimates are notably volatile month to month, however, so the Labor Department usually issues a disclaimer that the rate will likely be modified in the future.

“A methodology that the Bureau of Labor Statistics uses tends to drive the rate in a direction for several months at a time and then it turns and goes in the other direction for several months,” Glenn Mills, chief economist for the Maine Department of Labor’s Center for Workforce Research and Information, told the Bangor Daily News on Friday. “For that reason we’re not celebrating [the April estimate]. We’re cautiously optimistic.”

Charles Colgan, former chairman of Maine’s Consensus Economic Forecasting Commission and a professor of public policy and management at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service, agreed.

“Falling below 7 percent is good news — it puts us in the middle of the pack on unemployment rate — but overall it’s still very tentative evidence of a recovery,” Colgan said Friday.

The U.S. unemployment rate was estimated at 7.5 percent in April, a slight drop from 7.6 percent in March and down from 8.1 percent in April 2012.

Overall, New England’s unemployment rate is estimated at 6.8 percent — Vermont is 4 percent, New Hampshire 5.5 percent and Massachusetts 6.4 percent. Connecticut’s estimated unemployment rate was 8 percent, while Rhode Island’s was 8.8 percent.

Dropping unemployment doesn’t always indicate an increase in jobs.

When Maine’s unemployment rate fell last month, the number of wage and salary jobs also fell, by 400 to 597,400, according to BLS data. The reason, suspects Colgan, is an increase in self-employment, specifically in construction.

While the monthly unemployment estimates are notorious for their volatility, Colgan still looks at them every month to measure Maine’s numbers against the rest of the country.

Based on April’s estimates, Colgan said Maine’s economy is changing at essentially the same rate as the United States.

“This is what I’ve been saying all along — our recovery depends entirely on the U.S. because our rate of change is not, and has not been for nearly four years now, statistically different than the U.S.,” Colgan said.

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