PORTLAND, Maine — Maine’s unemployment rate remained at 5.5 percent in July, a period when the share of government jobs hit a 15-year low as private sector jobs remained flat. Maine’s unemployment rate held steady, while estimates of the national and regional jobless rate increased.
The latest figures estimate 8,700 fewer people are unemployed in the state compared with one year ago. About 38,800 Maine job seekers remained without work in July.
Glenn Mills, chief economist for the Department of Labor’s Center for Workforce Research and Information, said the drop in government payroll jobs reflects impacts of the recession on local and state government budgets.
“In the recession and aftermath, towns and state government are financially constrained and budgets have been very tight,” Mills said, noting that schools also make up a large portion of government employment. “There’s a natural decline. Fewer kids leads to fewer staff in schools.”
Maine’s population under age 18 fell by more than 10,000 from 2010 to 2013, according to census estimates.
Government nonfarm payroll jobs have fallen by 4,800 since July 2008, returning to levels last seen in mid-2000. Local government made up 2,200 of the drop since July 2008, and state government jobs have fallen 2,000 since that period.
Private sector jobs are rising but were still 5,900 jobs below a peak of 516,800 jobs in February 2008.
The pace of job recovery in the private sector has meant a net increase of 7,100 payroll jobs in the state compared with July 2013. Estimates for July dipped from June, but economists focus on long-term trends in those estimates rather than month-to-month change, which can fluctuate.
After the recession, economists also have given more attention to the ratio of people with jobs to the total population as a measure of the health of the job market.
Maine’s employment-to-population ratio has remained higher than the national average for 82 consecutive months, but it has dropped slightly since a peak in March, when 61.8 percent of Maine’s population was employed. The ratio was 61.4 percent in July.
For the month, Maine’s unemployment rate remained below the national jobless rate of 6.2 percent and the average jobless rate for New England of 5.8 percent in July. National and regional estimates rose one-tenth of a percent from June.
Maine’s rate was higher than Vermont (3.7 percent) and New Hampshire (4.4 percent) in July and was lower than Massachusetts (5.6 percent), Connecticut (6.6 percent) and Rhode Island (7.7 percent).