Maine’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.2 percent in December, the lowest level since December 2008.

December’s rate was down from 6.4 percent in November, and 7.2 percent a year earlier.

“Maine’s unemployment rate fell again this month, along with the nation as a whole. The falling unemployment rate is undeniably good news, but it’s only one piece of the picture,” said Garrett Martin, executive director of the Maine Center for Economic Policy, a left-leaning think tank.

“Maine’s recovery from the recession is still far from complete and our economic environment remains challenging for low- and middle-income Maine families,” he said.

Martin noted that typical wages and household incomes have been flat. Maine also trails most other states in job creation, even after accounting for the lack of population growth, Martin said.

At the peak of the recession in 2010, Maine’s unemployment rate hit 8.4 percent. Before the recession, it had been as low as 4.5 percent.

The preliminary estimate of non-farm payroll jobs in Maine was 600,400 in December, up by 6,500 jobs from a year earlier, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For the entire year of 2013, total non-farm payroll jobs rose by 3,600 jobs from the previous year. In the private sector, the education and health care sector accounted for 19 percent of that total, while professional and business services comprised 50 percent. Leisure and hospitality jobs accounted for 33 percent of the job gains in 2013.

By contrast, however, the number of government jobs fell by 700 positions. Those figures are subject to revision, the Maine Department of Labor’s Center for Workforce Research cautioned.

Gov. Paul LePage on Tuesday highlighted several companies that have hired workers in Maine over the past several months, including credit card company Barclaycards, Irving Forest Products, call-center company Ameridial, container shipping company Eimskip, private aircraft servicing company Tempus Jets, Maine Wood Concepts and Molnlycke Health Care.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that 44,300 Mainers were unemployed last month, down 6,500 over the year.

Maine’s unemployment rate was better than the national rate of 6.7 percent in December, which was down from 7.9 percent a year ago. Maine also fared better than New England’s overall rate of 6.8 percent. Rates in other New England states ranged from 4.2 percent in Vermont to 9.1 percent in Rhode Island.

The unemployment rate fell in 39 states last month, though most of that was attributable to people giving up job searches and leaving the workforce. The government only counts people as unemployed if they are actively seeking a job.

Maine continues to have a higher share of employed population than the U.S. overall. In Maine, 61.2 percent of the population is employed, compared with 58.6 percent for the nation. December marked the 75th consecutive month Maine’s share of employed population exceeded the U.S. average.

Maine has about 42,600 part-time workers who want more hours but can’t find them, according to the Maine Center for Economic Policy. In addition, Maine has 9,400 workers who have stopped looking for work.

Non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rates ranged from 4.6 percent in Cumberland County to 9.3 percent in Piscataquis County. Rates tended to be lower than the statewide average in southern and central counties and higher than average in northern and rim counties.

The unemployment rate in the major metropolitan areas was below the statewide average: Portland-South Portland-Biddeford had 4.9 percent; Bangor, 5.6 percent; and Lewiston-Auburn, 5.6 percent.

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

jhall@pressherald.com

Twitter: @JessicaHallPPH