Maine’s economic recovery from the pandemic-fueled slowdown continued to pick up the pace last month.
The Maine Department of Labor reported last week that the state gained 3,000 jobs, bringing the June jobs figure to 614,900.
That followed a lackluster May that saw the creation of only 700 jobs, according to the state’s revised figure for the month, far below the pace set during the first four months of the year, when 9,600 jobs were created across Maine.
Last month’s gains were largely concentrated in public and private education, while those over the past year have been concentrated in leisure and hospitality, retail, professional and business services, and manufacturing.
Overall, Maine saw job losses across all sectors averaging 3.9 percent, compared with February 2020. Maine has about 47,000 more jobs than it did last year, according to the labor department. Still, despite those clawbacks, there are about 25,100 fewer jobs than in February 2020, before the pandemic began.
But state economists cautioned that a lower labor force participation rate has masked the severity of job losses since March 2020.
Maine’s labor force participation rate stands at 60.2 percent, up 1 percentage point from a year ago but down 2.4 points from February 2020. The labor force participation rate does not count those who are unemployed but have stopped looking for work.
If Maine’s labor force participation rate stood at its pre-pandemic level, another 26,400 Mainers would be counted as jobless and the unemployment rate could be as high as 8.4 percent, according to state labor officials.
“The lower rate of participation in the labor force than before the pandemic continued to cause unemployment data to understate the impact of the decrease in the number of jobs,” labor department economists wrote in the June jobs report.
Maine’s jobless rate held steady for the fifth straight month at 4.8 percent, after May’s jobless rate was revised up a 10th of a percentage point. It’s down from 5.3 percent a year ago but higher than the 3.1 percent seen in February 2020, just before the pandemic ended a historic streak of record-low employment.
That jobless rate was below the national average (5.9 percent) and the average across New England (5.4 percent). Just two New England states — 2.9 percent in New Hampshire and 3.1 percent in Vermont — have lower levels of joblessness.
Even as joblessness has sharply declined in Maine, there are still 32,500 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.
June’s report comes as Maine has seen manufacturers shedding jobs in recent weeks amid falling demand for COVID-19 protective and testing equipment. Abbott Laboratories this month laid off 300 workers at its Westbrook facility, where it produced COVID-19 test kits. That was followed by an announcement from Guilford-based Puritian Medical Products that it was extending its furlough of 180 workers at its Pittsfield plant. Those workers were expected to return Aug. 2.