Maine’s labor market had another month of high job gains in August, but the pace of recovery slowed and poor data made the official unemployment rate unreliable.

The Maine Department of Labor reported that 6,100 new nonfarm payroll jobs were added in August, another significant gain but far fewer than new jobs created monthly since May.

Maine’s official unemployment rate was 6.9 percent in August, a significant drop from almost 10 percent the previous month.

But the official figure for August is almost certainly inaccurate, said state labor economist Glenn Mills. If the number of people in the labor market was as high in August as it was in February, the unemployment rate would likely be around 10 percent, he said.

About 49,000 net jobs have been recovered in the past four months, roughly half the number of losses since the start of the pandemic, said Mark McInerney, director of the Center for Workforce Research and Information, on a call with reporters Friday.

But the state still has 55,000 fewer jobs than it did in February, he added.

“This represents the fourth consecutive month we have seen very strong job gains,” McInerney said. The pace of recovery has slowed since June, he added.

Almost all the job gains were in the private sector, principally in leisure and hospitality, healthcare and social assistance, professional and business services, and the retail trade sector.

“What we saw in August was a continuing trend in increase of payroll jobs in industries hit the hardest” by the pandemic, McInerney said.

Wild swings in state unemployment rates have become a common issue during the pandemic, Mills said.

Since the pandemic hit in March, unemployment rates in Maine and many other states have fluctuated wildly because of data collection problems with a household survey the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics uses to generate those figures, he said.

“Realistically, nothing like this could happen, this data really isn’t providing a good indication of labor market participation right now,” Mills said.

The number of households the bureau surveys is small – about 800 in Maine – and response rates have been low recently, he said. Furthermore, artificial barriers to job searches created by the pandemic mean that the number of people counted as unemployed because they are available for work is lower than it should be.

“Seasonally adjusted unemployment rates have never changed like this,” Mills said. “This is not providing a good indication of the hardship in the labor market today.”


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