If they opt to go back to work, striking union members at Bath Iron Works will actually have an impact on state labor statistics. The union is due to start voting on Friday. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Despite an overall rise in jobless claims filed last week, Maine economy continues to show signs of rebounding from the plunge created by the coronavirus pandemic, state officials said Friday.

According to data released by the Maine Department of Labor, non-farm payroll jobs increased by 10,100 in July, and 43,900 jobs have been recovered overall since the pandemic began in March, although the jobless total for July still remained down 60,600 from February.

The private sector added 4,300 jobs, primarily in the leisure and hospitality and retail trade sectors as they continued to climb back from sharp declines in the spring. Still, those industries have thousands more jobs to regain before they’re back to pre-pandemic levels.

While the unemployment rate increased to 9.9 percent in Maine in July, labor force participation increased to pre-pandemic levels.

Jobs in the manufacturing sector decreased 3,500 in July, but that was primarily due to the shipbuilders’ strike in Bath, and the 4,300-member union was due to begin voting Friday on a tentative deal to end the strike.

The public sector added 5,800 jobs and federal government jobs increased by 1,100 as the U.S. Census Bureau added temporary workers for the 2020 census. Local governments added 4,700 jobs, partly reflecting seasonal hiring for certain functions that was not offset by decreases in education staffing, which occurred early this year when schools closed.

Still, the 576,700 nonfarm jobs in July remained 60,600, or 9.5 percent, lower than in February, before the pandemic began to affect the labor market.

Areas within Maine showed signs of stability, but no return to pre-pandemic employment levels. After sharper job losses in the spring, the number of jobs in the Portland-South Portland metro area remained 11 percent lower than in February. Jobs remained down eight percent in the Bangor area, six percent in the Lewiston-Auburn area, and 10 percent in non-metro areas.

Yet the unemployment rate increased to 9.9 percent from a revised rate of 6.7 percent for June. The 68,900 unemployed figure was up 23,900 from the revised June estimate.

And there were signs that Mainers either felt safe enough despite the pandemic to venture out in search of work or were driven to look for jobs.

The labor department said the increase in unemployment in July is due to a surge in labor force participation, which causes these estimates to more fully reflect the job displacement that has occurred as a result of the pandemic than estimates for the previous three months did.

And extraordinary flip-flops occurred due to the pandemic. Between April and July, the labor force increased by 39,000 after decreasing 36,000 between February and April. This sharp decrease and increase in the labor force in just a few months is without precedent and likely occurred because people who lost jobs in March and April could not engage in normal work searches due to the stay-at-home order and safety concerns.

More people apparently began seeking work, increasing the number of people finding jobs or filing unemployment claims, as pandemic restrictions gradually relaxed over the last three months, particularly in July, according to the labor department.