Maine saw only marginal job gains in December as elevated coronavirus transmission continued to suppress growth.
The Maine Department of Labor said Tuesday that 3,600 new jobs were created in construction, transportation and warehousing, professional and business services, education services, health care and social assistance, and other other industries.
But those gains were largely offset by sharp losses in leisure and hospitality and public higher education of 1,800 and 1,200, respectively. That means Maine saw jobs rise to 588,900 over the previous month, only a net gain of 400 jobs.
December’s anemic job growth mirrors the trend seen over the past three months as the state has grappled with a severe spike in coronavirus transmission, resulting in more than 31,600 infections since late October. That’s six times as many cases as Maine saw from March through October.
Overall, Maine saw 7.6 percent fewer jobs across most sectors in December, compared with February 2020, before virus transmission took hold in the state. In specific sectors: Leisure and hospitality have 29 percent fewer jobs, information 14 percent, private education services 13 percent, state government 11 percent and local government 10 percent.
Those losses in state and local governments over the previous 10 months largely came from shedding jobs in prekindergarten through 12th grade schools and at higher education institutions, according to the Maine Department of Labor.
About 60 percent of job losses over that time have been in leisure and hospitality.
The state’s jobless rate fell 0.1 percent to 4.9 percent in December. That’s down from the pandemic high of 10.4 percent in April 2020, but above 3.2 percent in February 2020, ending a historic streak of record-low employment.
That jobless rate is below the national average (6.7 percent) and average across New England (6.9 percent). Just two New England states — New Hampshire at 4 percent and Vermont at 3.1 percent — have lower levels of joblessness.
Even as joblessness has sharply declined in Maine, there are still 33,200 Mainers without work across the state, according to Maine labor officials. That surpasses the high seen in April 2009 during the Great Recession, when 28,564 Mainers were out of work, state data show.
“Health concerns, childcare challenges, and other factors continued to prevent many jobless people from being available to work or from engaging in work search, as they normally would if not for the virus,” the department said Tuesday.
Maine’s labor force participation rate stands at 60.2 percent, down from 62.4 percent in February 2020. The labor force participation rate does not count those who have stopped looking for work.
If Maine’s labor force participation rate stood at its pre-pandemic level, the state would have 25,000 more people in the workforce, according to the Department of Labor.