Maine added just 1,600 nonfarm payroll jobs in October, leading to a small decrease in the unemployment rate as COVID-19 began to rise across Maine and the United States.
Maine’s unemployment rate was 5.4 percent in October, down from 6.1 percent in September and 7 percent in August, the Maine Department of Labor said Friday. About 56,400 jobs have been added since unemployment reached a peak in April. Yet, October jobs remained 48,100 lower than February, before the pandemic hit Maine and began affecting the state’s job market.
With 589,200 total nonfarm jobs, Maine was one of 37 states that saw a lower unemployment rate in October. Maine ranked 16th in the country in its unemployment rate — Nebraska (3 percent) had the lowest rate while Hawaii (14.3 percent) had the highest.
While jobs increased compared to September, October’s numbers came as COVID-19 cases rose across Maine and the United States. It is unclear how much of an effect this rise — which began in late October — had on the labor market.
Gov. Janet Mills has begun to increase restrictions on businesses to address the rise, including a 9 p.m. curfew for restaurants and bars she issued on Thursday.
Most of the job increases in Maine were in the private sector, which added 3,900 new jobs, primarily in the leisure and hospitality, retail trade, professional and business sectors, the labor department said. Public sector jobs decreased by 2,300, primarily because of temporary U.S. Census jobs ending.
Penobscot County had an unemployment rate of 4.5 percent compared to 2.6 percent in October 2019. The unemployment rate was lowest in Sagadahoc County (4.1 percent) and highest in Oxford County (6.3 percent).
The unemployment rate was 4.2 percent in Hancock County, 4.3 percent in Kennebec and Knox counties, 4.4 percent in Lincoln County, 4.5 in Waldo County, 4.6 percent in Aroostook County, 4.7 percent in Cumberland County, 4.9 percent in Franklin County, 5 percent in York County, 5.1 percent in Androscoggin County, 5.2 percent in Piscataquis County, 5.4 percent in Washington County and 5.8 percent in Somerset County.
Bangor had the lowest unemployment rate of Maine’s three major metro areas, with 4.3 percent of workers unemployed. That rate was 4.7 percent in Portland-South Portland and 5 percent in Lewiston-Auburn.
Even as COVID-19 cases rose in the state, Maine had the third-lowest rate of COVID-19 cases per capita over the last seven days in the United States, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from Thursday. Only Hawaii and Vermont had lower rates.
Maine saw a decrease in its labor participation rate in October, a statistic not reflected in unemployment numbers, which reflect only those actively looking for work. Childcare challenges, health concerns and other factors can make people not search for work, the labor department said.
Compared to its New England neighbors, Maine’s unemployment numbers were lower than Massachusetts (7.4 percent), Rhode Island (7 percent) and Connecticut (6.1 percent), but higher than New Hampshire (4.2 percent) and Vermont (3.2 percent).
The U.S. unemployment rate was 6.9 percent in October, down from 7.9 percent in September.