Job creation in Maine slowed in September even as some industries nearly regained their pre-pandemic workforce numbers.

Net non-farm payroll jobs increased by 4,700 last month, according to the Maine Department of Labor’s monthly jobs report, issued Tuesday. September’s job gains were the lowest in the past five months. Monthly job gains peaked at a high of around 19,000 in June and have decreased every month since.

“The pace of recovery has slowed both in Maine and nationally,” said Glenn Mills, deputy director of the Center for Workforce Research at the Maine Department of Labor.

Sluggish job recovery “is likely related to the rising infection rate,” Mills said. “We can’t know for certain yet. It’s worth keeping in mind that recoveries are not straight lines up, tending to undulate up with patterns of slower and faster growth in a sequence of months.”

Private sector employers added 7,900 jobs, state labor economists reported. That gain was offset by a loss of 3,200 public sector jobs, mostly because there was lower-than-usual seasonal hiring in local public education.

The Maine economy has regained 53,900 jobs, more than half the number it lost when the economy crashed in April amid stay-at-home orders and government restrictions. However, the total number of jobs in the state is still 50,600 fewer than in February, the department reported.

In February, there were 637,300 non-farm payroll jobs in Maine, according to the labor department. That number plummeted to 532,800 jobs in April and has recovered – at a gradually declining rate – to 586,700 jobs as of September.

While every industry lost jobs when the pandemic struck, some areas including construction, transportation, warehousing, utilities, wholesale and trade have nearly recovered, according to the labor department. Other businesses that were hit hard and are still under tight restrictions continue to have far fewer jobs than at the same time last year. Leisure and hospitality still had 18,800 fewer jobs than in September 2019, according to department statistics.

The state’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.1 percent, nearly one percentage point below the rate of 7 percent in August. That number may be misleading, however, because thousands of workers who would typically be looking for jobs are not currently participating in the labor force and aren’t being counted as unemployed.

“Unemployment estimates for September understate the level of job displacement that has occurred because health concerns, childcare challenges and other factors prevented many jobless people from being available to work or from engaging in work search, as they normally would,” the report said.

Maine’s labor force participation rate was about 61 percent in September, just 1.4 percentage points lower than a year earlier. That small variation translates to a relatively large share of people who are not looking for a job, Mills said.

“If participation was as high as a year ago, 15,100 more people would be in the labor force as unemployed people,” he said.

If the state’s labor participation rate was as high now as it was in February, September’s unemployment rate would be about 9 percent in Maine, state economists estimated.


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