For the first time in more than four years, Maine’s unemployment rate has dropped below 7 percent.
The preliminary, seasonally adjusted rate of 6.9 percent for April was down from the statewide jobless rate of 7.1 percent in March and 7.3 percent in February. It was the first monthly unemployment rate below 7 percent since December 2008.
Maine joins 39 other states that recorded lower unemployment rates in April. The U.S. Department of Labor said Friday that unemployment rates increased in only three states — Louisiana, Tennessee and North Dakota — and were unchanged in seven states.
The national unemployment rate was 7.5 percent in April, a four-year low. It was down from 7.6 percent in March and 8.1 percent in February.
Robert McCafferty, a recent transplant from Boston, moved to Portland in January with no job prospects and no familiarity with the city.
But he quickly landed a full-time job as a beer kegger at Shipyard Brewing Co.
“There are jobs out there,” said McCafferty, who is 41. “If we keep a positive attitude, things will work out.”
McCafferty said he is seeking a second, part-time job to supplement his income.
“I’m not worried,” McCafferty said, considering the ease with which he got his current job.
Nationwide, employers added 165,000 jobs in April. The economy has added an average of 208,000 jobs a month since November. That’s up from only 138,000 a month in the previous six months.
“An unemployment rate of 6.9 percent is a positive sign that Maine’s economy is improving,” Gov. Paul LePage said in a written statement Friday. “However, we need to keep working to grow our economy and ensure that we do not slip backwards.”
The 6.9 percent figure likely will be adjusted upward when more data becomes available, said the Department of Labor’s chief economist, Glenn Mills, but the general trend since 2011 has been toward a more robust job market.
The rapid, two-month decline in the state’s jobless rate follows a slight increase in unemployment, to 7.3 percent in January from 7.2 percent in October, November and December.
The labor department reported an estimate of 497,700 private, nonfarm jobs in Maine in April, up slightly from 497,400 in April 2012. There were an estimated 99,700 government jobs in Maine in April, down from 101,500 a year earlier.
Employment sectors that had the biggest gains in April compared with a year earlier included the leisure and hospitality sector, which added 1,200 jobs, and professional and business services, which added 700 jobs.
The job losses in April from a year ago came in the health care and social services sector, which lost an estimated 1,300 jobs.
Mills said swings in Maine’s jobless numbers are partly attributable to the method used to estimate unemployment in the state. The numbers are adjusted as employers submit payroll data, which gets added to the initial estimates.
Still, Mills said, every time lower jobless numbers are reported, even if they’re estimates, employers who have been sitting on the fence may decide to start hiring, and unemployed residents who have given up on finding jobs may be spurred to try again.
“There’s no doubt that psychology plays a role in how hard people look for work,” he said.
Mike Roland, manager of the Portland CareerCenter, said it’s too soon to get excited about the dip in Maine’s estimated jobless numbers, but he has noticed that business is a bit slower at the job-placement service than it was a year ago.
That’s a good sign, he said. “There’s some faint optimism.”
On Exchange Street in Portland’s Old Port, several merchants had “Help Wanted” signs in their windows Friday.
Betina Clark, retail manager at Lovell Designs, at 26 Exchange St., said the jewelry store is just coming into its busy season and is looking to hire a few staff members.
“We’re already seeing an increase in business,” she said.
At the nearby Leather Exchange, at 38 Exchange St., retail clerk Kasia Kaczynski said her boss has been looking for two months to replace two employees who left, one for graduate school and the other to work in the culinary field.
“I’m not sure why it’s taking so long,” Kaczynski said.
Marcia Leander, assistant vice president of staffing for Unum, which has a large claims-processing center in Portland, said the insurance company is still finding plenty of viable candidates for entry-level positions but the market has tightened considerably for experienced information-technology and finance personnel.
“With the unemployment rate where it is, we’ve been really lucky to have robust talent pools for administrative and entry-level jobs,” Leander said.
J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at: