AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Labor Department says the state’s October unemployment rate was 7.3 percent, a slight drop from September’s revised figure, with the Millinocket region showing one of the state’s most significant declines.
Labor Commissioner Robert Winglass said October’s preliminary rate was 0.2 percent lower than September’s 7.5 percent, and 0.3 percent lower than the October 2010 rate.
The Millinocket region’s unemployment rate of 20.4 percent for September dropped to 17.0 percent for October. It had held at 20.4 percent in August, peaked at 21.8 percent in June and showed its largest increase — from 16.7 percent in April to 21.5 percent in May — the month following the East Millinocket paper mill’s closure.
People claiming unemployment benefits in the Millinocket area in June numbered 818, compared to 630 last month, according to Labor Department statistics.
East Millinocket Selectman Mark Scally said he hoped that more people were employed.
“It is either that or they are not on unemployment anymore,” Scally said Tuesday. “They don’t qualify.”
Scally believed that much of the uptick in employment in the Katahdin region came from the restart of the East Millinocket mill, which put what is now 217 people to work and happened in October, when he was chairman of the Board of Selectmen. As of last week, the board named newly elected former Selectman Clint Linscott chairman.
But the increase in employed might not be all that much to cheer, Scally said.
“There is still a lot of work to be done here. We had 600 [total mill workers employed in the region] and really there are still 400 people out of work here, from the 2008 figures anyway,” Scally said, referring to the approximately 175 people who lost their jobs when the Millinocket paper mill closed in 2008 and the approximately 200 mill workers who did not get their jobs back when the East Millinocket plant restarted.
“We can’t sit back on our laurels and say, ‘Well, everything is OK.’ Well, no, it isn’t,” Scally said. “We still have to keep up the drive to get new industry here.”
The jobless rate for the nearby town of Lincoln, which is about 35 miles from Millinocket, also fell, from 9.9 percent in September to 9.5 percent, according to Labor Department statistics. Lincoln’s unemployment rate peaked at 12.3 percent in May, following the East Millinocket mill’s closure on April 1, and has been steadily declining since.
Maine’s October 2011 figure compares to the national 9 percent unemployment rate.
The Labor Department says the number of Maine unemployed workers in October totaled 50,700, down 2,100 from a year ago.
The U.S. unemployment rate was 9.0 percent, little changed from 9.1 percent in September and down from 9.7 percent a year ago.