Maine’s unemployment rate in December stayed roughly unchanged from the previous month at about 4.9 percent, according to a report issued Tuesday by the Maine Department of Labor.

Still, economists say many unemployed residents are being misclassified, and that the state’s true jobless rate is likely above 10 percent. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Maine’s jobless rate had remained below 4 percent for several years.

Maine’s labor force participation rate, the share of working-age residents actively working or seeking a job, fell by 0.2 percentage points in December to 60.2 percent. Maine’s labor force participation rate had been 62.4 percent in February 2020, immediately prior to the pandemic’s onset.

“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,” Tuesday’s report said. “Jobless people who do not search for work are not considered to be in the labor force and are not counted as unemployed. If labor force participation was as high as it was in February (2020), nearly 25,000 more people would have been in the labor force.”

According to the report, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that close to 15,600 Mainers were misclassified in December by survey interviewers as employed rather than as temporarily unemployed, as they should have been.

“If not for these two issues, the unemployment rate for December would have been slightly over 10 percent,” it said.

The U.S. unemployment rate remained at 6.7 percent in December, while the New England rate increased by 0.4 percentage points to 6.9 percent, the report said. December rates for other states in the region were 4 percent in New Hampshire, 3.1 percent in Vermont, 7.4 percent in Massachusetts, 8.1 percent in Rhode Island and 8 percent in Connecticut, it said.

As a result of annual data revisions, the release of this month’s unemployment and workforce participation estimates will be delayed until March 15, the labor department said. Revised statewide data for prior years, including 2020 annual averages, will be published March 3, it said.


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