The unemployment rate in Maine fell to a seasonally adjusted 6.4 percent in November, down 0.3 percent from the previous month, marking its lowest level since November 2008. The state Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated 45,500 people were unemployed in Maine, down 5,400 from the same month last year.

Last year, Maine’s November unemployment rate was 7.2 percent.

The state unemployment rate also fell below the U.S. rate of 7 percent in November. The U.S. rate was down from 7.3 percent in October and 7.8 percent a year ago.

The drop in Maine’s unemployment rate followed a national trend, with a total of 45 states and the District of Columbia posting lower unemployment rates in November. Five states had no change, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“We’re seeing a good downward trend in unemployment,” said Glenn Mills, chief economist for the Maine Labor Department’s Center for Workforce Research and Information.

The share of Maine’s population that is employed rose to 61.2 percent. The national employment-to-population ratio is 58.6 percent, where it has remained for four years. November was the 74th consecutive month in which the share of employed population in Maine exceeded the national average.

“The biggest difference between us and the nation is that our percentage of employed population is rising,” said Mills.

Over the past year, there have been employment gains in Maine in the education, health care, professional services, and leisure and hospitality sectors, Mills said. Those gains have helped offset declines in government jobs, he added.

“Three months in a row of a declining unemployment rate is very encouraging, and overall we’ve had a fairly steady decline since February,” said Joel Johnson, an economist with the Maine Center for Economic Policy, a left-leaning think tank. “Still, we have a way to go to get back to pre-recession rates.”

In December 2007, Maine’s unemployment rate was 4.8 percent, and the U.S. unemployment rate was 5 percent.

In November, the unemployment rate for New England overall was 6.9 percent, with individual states ranging from 4.4 percent in Vermont to 9 percent in Rhode Island.

In Maine, the non-seasonally adjusted statewide unemployment rate was 6.1 percent in November, down from 6.9 percent one year ago. Not-seasonally-adjusted rates ranged from 4.8 percent in Cumberland County to 9.2 percent in Piscataquis County. Rates tended to be lower than the statewide average in southern and central counties, and higher than average in northern counties.

The state’s three metropolitan areas also had unemployment rates below the statewide average: Portland-South Portland-Biddeford was 5 percent, Bangor 5.6 percent, and Lewiston-Auburn 5.7 percent.

The state had 601,100 nonfarm payroll jobs in November, up 4,600 from one year ago, based on preliminary estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Maine has added about 9,900 jobs since we bottomed out during the recession. That gets us only one-third of the way back to where we were before the recession,” Johnson said. “We still have a long way to go. It’s too early for anybody to be taking a victory lap.”

About 90,000 Mainers are underemployed, which means they can find only part-time work; another 10,000 in the state have left the workforce, Johnson said. People who are on extended unemployment benefits – about 3,300 in Maine, or 0.47 percent of the labor force – face the likely loss of those benefits as of Dec. 28, according to the U.S. Labor Department. A benefit extension wasn’t included in a deal to set federal spending levels for the next two years. The Maine Department of Labor, which administers the state’s unemployment system, has been warning beneficiaries of the program’s termination.

Jessica Hall may be reached at 791-6316 or at:

jhall@pressherald.com

Twitter: @JessicaHallPPH