PORTLAND, Maine — The estimate of Maine payroll jobs in January topped 620,000 for the first time since before the Great Recession, a recovery that took four times longer than usual.
Those employment gains also helped propel the state’s jobless rate down past lows in the spring of 2016, to levels last recorded in March 2001.
The estimate of the state’s unemployment rate hit 3.5 percent in January, down from 3.8 percent one year earlier. The number dropped as both the estimate of people employed and the number in the labor force actively seeking work rose over the year.
The payroll jobs measure, which comes from a separate set of estimates based on surveys of employers, has provided policymakers one clear yardstick to measure the state’s recovery from the last recession.
The Maine Department of Labor has compared that recovery to past recessions, noting that the previous six recessions took an average of 27 months for payroll jobs to recover. If the latest preliminary payroll job estimates hold, recovery from the Great Recession that started in December 2007 will have taken 109 months.
The state hit another benchmark in the first half of 2016, when state gross domestic product cleared 2007 levels.
The estimated job growth in January continues a steady climb for all nonfarm and private-sector payroll jobs, which are at an all-time high. The largest gains have been in health care and education sectors.
The benchmark comes more than two years after the nation as a whole recovered jobs lost during the Great Recession. Research into the recovery has found a steady pattern in recent recessions, in which rural areas are left behind as new business growth becomes increasingly concentrated in urban areas.
The state’s estimated unemployment rate for January was higher than that of New Hampshire (2.7 percent), Vermont (3.1 percent) and Massachusetts (3.2 percent), but was lower than in Connecticut (4.5 percent) and Rhode Island (4.7 percent).