Maine continued to add jobs at a higher clip in February, but those gains still fall shy of recovering all those lost since the pandemic began.
The Maine Department of Labor reported on Friday that the state added 2,800 more jobs last month.
That’s more than the job gains seen in January — 2,000 — and far above the anemic growth reported in December, when only 400 jobs were created.
February’s job gains were primarily concentrated in professional and business services, retail, and manufacturing, the department said. Other sectors saw only modest gains.
That announcement comes as Gov. Janet Mills continues to rollback restrictions meant to contain transmission of the coronavirus. On Friday, bars and tasting rooms were given the greenlight to reopen, while gathering limits were raised to 50 percent. Those will rise to 75 percent in May.
Overall, Maine saw job losses across all sectors averaging 5 percent, compared with a year ago. There are about 34,200 fewer jobs than in March 2020.
Those losses have been most pronounced in leisure and hospitality (23 percent) and public and private education (8 percent). Despite accounting for just 21 percent of the state’s workforce, those two sectors accounted for 64 percent of job losses over the past 12 months, according to the Maine Department of Labor.
Elsewhere in the economy, construction, manufacturing and professional and business services have nearly recovered all jobs lost since March 2020.
Maine’s jobless rate fell 0.4 percentage points to 4.8 percent in February. That’s down from the pandemic high of 10.4 percent in April 2020, but higher than the 3.1 percent reported a year ago, just before Maine saw an end to a historic streak of record-low employment.
That jobless rate is below the national average (6.3 percent) and the average across New England (6.7 percent). Just two New England states — 3.3 percent in New Hampshire and Vermont — have lower levels of joblessness.
Even as joblessness has sharply declined in Maine, there are still 32,500 Mainers without work across the state, according to Maine labor officials. That surpasses the high seen in April 2009 during the Great Recession, when 28,564 Mainers were out of work, state data show.
Mainers have collected more than $2 billion in jobless benefits since March 15, 2020, the labor department said Thursday. It paid out nearly $74 million in all of 2019.
But that rate of joblessness could be even higher. Maine’s labor force participation rate stands at 60 percent, down 2.6 percentage points from a year earlier. The labor force participation rate does not count those who are unemployed but have stopped looking for work.
If Maine’s labor force participation rate stood at its pre-pandemic level, the jobless rate could be as high as 8.8 percent, according to the Department of Labor.