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AUGUSTA, Maine — Workers in Maine’s hospitality and entertainment industries continue to be the hardest hit as unemployment claims jumped again last week amid the economic shutdown induced by the new coronavirus.
The 76,000 unemployment claims filed in Maine over the past three weeks account for about 11 percent of the state’s overall labor force, putting the state slightly above the national average in unemployment claims. The three-week total was more than double the claims filed in Maine in all of 2019.
Nearly a quarter of workers in Maine’s food, accommodations and entertainment sectors have filed unemployment claims over the past few weeks, according to data from the state’s labor department. Those two sectors account for about 12 percent of employment in Maine, but 36 percent of overall claims filed in the past three weeks.
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The role of the hospitality industry and prevalence of small businesses in Maine likely made Maine’s economy especially susceptible to the coronavirus-induced recession. Small businesses are eligible for relief through a federal program championed by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, which offers forgivable loans to businesses that keep employees on payroll.
While thousands of Maine businesses have received loans, according to Collins’ office, the rollout of the program has been rocky and some small business owners say they are unlikely to benefit. The federal government is considering allocating more funding for the program.
The number of unemployment claims is likely to be an underestimate of the total number of Mainers out of work. The state’s unemployment system has struggled to keep up with demand, with some workers saying they have to wait days before they can get help filing a claim.
Additionally, self-employed workers and independent contractors, who are eligible for unemployment under a new federal law, have not yet been able to file as the state is still working to set up that program.
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