Maine’s unemployment rate in March dipped to its lowest point since the start of the pandemic, driven by consistent monthly job growth since the beginning of the year that’s nearly restored the number of jobs to pre-pandemic levels.

The state’s jobless rate fell to 3.6 percent, compared to about 4 percent the previous month and almost the same as immediately before the pandemic, according to the monthly job report from the Maine Department of Labor. The state added 3,600 jobs, putting the employed workforce at its highest point in two years.

“We are on a good trend. Job growth has been strong and we are nearly all the way back to the level of jobs we were at before the pandemic,” said state labor economist Glenn Mills. Maine had 638,700 jobs in March, just 1,300 fewer than February 2020. “We are not quite all the way back, but we are getting closer every month,” Mills said.

Month-over-month job gains are driving the unemployment rate down, even as Maine’s workforce participation rate – the number of people who have a job or are actively looking for work – remains stubbornly low, compared to the number who had a job or were actively looking for one in early 2020. Employers added more than 10,000 jobs since January, a consistent upward trend after more than a year of stop-and-go job creation.

The last three months represent the strongest period of job creation in Maine since late spring and summer 2020, when workers surged back to businesses that reopened after lockdown.

But for the next year and a half, job creation rose and fell, in line with fluctuations in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths. That correlation disappeared this winter, when employers added jobs through the severe surge from the omicron variant.


Professional and business services, retail trade and healthcare were the industries showing the strongest job gains in March.

However, the leisure and hospitality industry, including hotels, restaurants, bars and entertainment venues, made up half the job gains in the first three months of this year. Many businesses are still recovering from massive job losses in the first days of the pandemic and have struggled to attract and keep employees.

Intense labor competition in those industries has driven wages higher than in other parts of the state’s economy. The average hourly pay for workers in leisure and hospitality in February was $20.97, a 13 percent increase from the year before, and a bigger percentage increase than any other private sector.

“It has been a very competitive environment for restaurants to keep their staff, it is not surprising their wages are rising rapidly,” Mills said.

While the statewide unemployment rate is trending down, the recovery varies widely across Maine.

Three counties – Cumberland, Sagadahoc and Kennebec – had unemployment rates below the state average for the month of March. In eight counties, mostly in the northern, Down East and western parts of the state, the unemployment rate was higher than the statewide average. Washington County had the highest jobless rate, at 6.5 percent, followed by Somerset and Aroostook counties.

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