The January unemployment rate for Maine was the lowest since 2001.

The Maine Department of Labor released January’s rate of 3.5 percent on Monday, down from 3.8 percent in December and one year ago, the lowest rate since March 2001. The number of unemployed was down 1,300 over the year to 24,300.

Decreasing unemployment points to a tight labor market that for the past year has challenged businesses looking to hire workers.

Maine’s three largest metro areas showed mixed jobs numbers. According to preliminary DOL data, unemployment rates were 3.0 percent in Portland-South Portland area; 3.5 percent in Lewiston-Auburn and 3.9 percent in Bangor.

The U.S. unemployment rate in January was 4.8 percent, little changed from December’s 4.7 percent and December 2015’s 4.9 percent. In February, the national unemployment rate had dipped to 4.7 percent. Maine’s February unemployment rate should be released March 24.

Three New England states had better unemployment rates than Maine’s – 2.7 percent in New Hampshire, 3.1 percent in Vermont and 3.2 percent in Massachusetts – while two others were worse, 4.7 percent in Rhode Island and 4.5 percent in Connecticut.

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