Nonfarm payroll jobs in Maine increased by 3,000 to 614,900 in June, according to a report issued Friday by the Maine Department of Labor. Despite this increase, the state’s unemployment rate held steady at 4.8 percent for the fifth consecutive month.

Most of the jobs added in June were in public and private education. According to Glenn Mills, labor economist at the Maine Center for Workforce Research and Information, there is always a decline in education jobs in June, but because the data is seasonally adjusted, a smaller decline than usual is reflected as an increase in the June report.

The number of payroll jobs was up 47,000 from June of last year – mostly in leisure and hospitality, retail trade, professional and business services and manufacturing sectors – but there remained 25,100 fewer jobs in the state than in February 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the market.

“June was a continuation of the gradual trend we’ve seen of improvement in the labor market after the significant hit that was taken in the spring of 2020,” Mills said. “In March and April last year, with the closure of the economy, we lost 95,000 jobs. We gained quite a few back very quickly in May and August last year and since then it’s been more of a modest gradual trend. There was a flat period in the fall into the winter when the COVID spike happened, and now that that’s over and vaccination rates are up, we’re continuing to gain jobs and get closer to being back to the normal state of things.”

The unemployment rate of 4.8 percent is kept artificially low by continued low labor force participation rates compared to pre-pandemic numbers, Mills said. The rate remained unchanged from the previous month at 60.2 percent, 2.4 points lower than in February 2020.

If the June labor force participation rate were the same as this pre-pandemic level, the unemployment rate would be 8.4 percent, the report states.

Mills explained that this low labor force participation rate likely is related to people choosing to retire earlier than initially planned, as well as the continued disruption of K-12 education. Because many students only attended school two or three days a week throughout the past year, parents may have stayed out of the labor force to address childcare needs.

“Assuming that the pandemic continues to get further and further into our rearview mirrors going forward, hopefully in September school will be normal and parents who have been held out of the labor force will be able to be back fully,” Mills said. 

Overall, the report reflects a hopeful path to a full recovery for the state’s labor market, he said.

“We’re doing about the same and perhaps a little better than the nation in terms of our recovery,” Mills said. “We have 3.9 percent fewer jobs than we had before the pandemic, and the nation has 4.4 percent fewer. So we’re not that far off from being all the way back.”

The U.S. unemployment rate was 5.9 percent in June, up slightly from 5.8 percent in May.


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