AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine posted a 3 percent unemployment rate for March, the lowest since the current method of measuring unemployment was adopted in 1976, according to the state’s chief economist.
“Preliminary estimates indicate there was a record number of nonfarm and private sector payroll jobs in Maine, which drove the unemployment rate to a new low,” Glenn Mills, the state’s chief economist, said in a Friday news release.
Mills estimates there were 623,000 “nonfarm payroll jobs” in March, up 5,300 from that point a year ago. Of those jobs, more than 523,000 were in the private sector. Construction, education, healthcare, trade, transportation and utilities trades saw the biggest growth.
Areas around cities saw the most job growth, driven in part by hospital and laboratory jobs serving the state’s aging population.
Mills said workers who lost their jobs in paper mill closures or the recession are continuing to reenter the workforce after going back to school.
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In March 2016, the unemployment rate was 3.7 percent. During that time, the number of unemployed Mainers dropped from 25,500 to 21,000, according to Mills.
The national unemployment rate hit 4.5 percent in March, down from 4.7 percent in February.
Mills said the unemployment rate drop could lead to an increase in wages as the employment market becomes more competitive and employers have to fight to attract a dropping number of qualified workers. Those wage bumps could also help draw more people into Maine for work, he said.
As labor markets tighten, especially in rural parts of the state, some people could be forced to move closer to cities, where job growth has been steadier.
Among its New England neighbors, Maine tied with Vermont for the second-best unemployment rate, falling behind New Hampshire’s 2.8 percent. Massachusetts posted 3.6 percent, Rhode Island 4.3 percent, and Connecticut 4.8 percent.
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