Osborne Jackson, senior economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, said consumers are mildly optimistic about the economy in New England and nationally. Credit: Lori Valigra

The job market continues to improve in New England and Maine, and consumers appear cautiously optimistic about the economy, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

“We’ve seen the labor market continuing on a steady improvement,” Osborne Jackson, senior economist the the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s New England Public Policy Center, said Thursday during a meeting of the Maine Better Transportation Association in South Portland.

He said inflation, excluding food and energy prices, is fairly low.

“Consumer sentiment about the present and future economy is fairly positive,” Jackson said.

House prices regionally have risen over the last year, and are approaching the national trend.

“Nationally and regionally, consumers seem to be more confident about the economic outlook,” he said. “Forecasts for employment and other indicators predict modest improvement, and employment remains on the rise across the region.”

Labor shortages aren’t so bad as to warrant big increases in wages, he said, adding he’s closely watching the job market.

In the last 12 months Maine’s employment growth rate is 0.6 percent, amounting to 3,600 more people employed, compared to a 0.9 percent rise or 66,800 people throughout New England and a rise of 1.6 percent or 2.28 million workers nationally.

Construction and transportation, warehousing and utilities lead the job growth in New England with 4.9 percent from February 2017 to February 2018 in New England compared to 4.2 percent nationally in construction. In Maine, construction jobs rose 0.4 percent.

Transportation, warehousing and utilities rose 2.5 percent in New England compared to 2.6 percent nationally. In Maine they were up 1.6 percent.

Unemployment rates remained low nationally, regionally and especially in Maine. In February 2018, the U.S. unemployment rate was 4.7 percent in February 2017 and slid to 4.1 percent. New England’s rate was 4 percent a year ago compared to 3.6 percent this February.

Maine fell from 3.3 percent last year to 2.9 percent this year. That’s the third-lowest rate in New England behind New Hampshire at 2.6 percent this year and Vermont at 2.9 percent.

In Penobscot County, including Bangor, unemployment fell from 3.4 percent in February 2017 to 2.9 percent this February. Similar declines were seen in Androscoggin County, which includes Lewiston and Auburn, from 3.2 percent to 2.7 percent for the year, and Cumberland, York and Sagadahoc counties, which include Portland and South Portland, from 2.7 percent to 2.3 percent.

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