The number of Maine workers employed in non-farm jobs hit a record high in February, but the state’s unemployment rate remained at 3.4% for the fifth straight month.

Around 656,200 people living in Maine had jobs last month, according to data released Friday by the Maine Department of Labor. It’s the largest number of Maine jobholders since the state started tracking the data in 1990. The employment count excludes people who own businesses, the self-employed and those who work on farms or in others’ homes, such as nannies.

The health care and social assistance sector saw the biggest increases in workers, with 6,000 more positions filled last month than in February 2023. It comes as Maine’s health care industry has struggled to attract enough workers, causing a crisis in access to health care services.

The 3.4% unemployment rate is 1 percentage point higher than it was the year before, when Maine hit a record low of 2.4% and stayed there for three months. However, February’s rate is well below the state’s long-term average of 5.5% since the current calculation was adopted in 1976. Unemployment in Maine has been below 4% for 27 months, the second longest such period.

Maine had nearly broken a record for its yearly rate before unemployment ticked up at the end of last year. The state clocked in with an unemployment rate of 2.9% for all of 2023.

Unemployment averaged 3.4% in the New England states last month and 3.9% nationwide.

The Department of Labor did not explain last month’s rate. As the percentage of unemployed people continued climbing toward the end of last year, the department attributed the uptick to a “somewhat larger increase” in the state’s labor force. Last month’s data show that the trend is continuing.

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