Maine’s economic recovery has been picking up speed over the first four months of the year, with about 9,600 new jobs created.
That followed four months when the state saw few job gains, including a very anemic 400 jobs added in December 2020.
The Maine Department of Labor reported Friday that the state added 1,200 jobs in April, excluding education. April’s jobs figure of 610,800 was actually down 1,600 from March, but state labor economists attributed that to an unusual seasonal change in education and the addition of 2,600 jobs to March’s revised tally.
The key change within education was the decision by the University of Maine and private colleges to reduce their spring breaks and keep students on campus, driving up employment within that sector for the month. For April, the number of jobs within public and private education was down 2,700 from the month prior.
“Aside from these issues, the underlying jobs trend remained positive in April, reflecting a more open economy,” the department said in its April jobs report.
The overall upbeat trend within the state’s economy comes as businesses, particularly those seasonal operations that cater to the influx of tourists who flood into the state starting Memorial Day weekend, complain of a labor shortage. That’s driving some business owners to consider scaling back hours or services because of the hard times they face in luring workers.
That shortage is driven, in part, by a shortage of foreign visa workers who typically fill jobs in the hospitality sector during the summer months. Former President Donald Trump halted the foreign workers programs most used by Maine tourism businesses last year, but the Biden administration is slowly bringing them back.
April’s job gains were heavily concentrated in construction, retail and professional and business services. But there were gains across the board, the department said.
That positive jobs report comes on the heels of Thursday’s news that the U.S. saw the fewest new jobless claims — 444,000 — since the pandemic began in a sign of an economy regaining its strength as pandemic restrictions ease and consumers again venture out to shop and spend less anxiously.
Overall, Maine saw job losses across all sectors averaging 4.6 percent, compared with a year ago. Maine has about 65,400 jobs more than it did last year when they hit a 24-year low, according to the labor department. Still, despite those clawbacks, there are still about 29,200 fewer jobs than in February 2020, before the pandemic began.
Steep losses still linger in leisure and hospitality and public and private education. Meanwhile, construction, professional and business services have fully recovered to their pre-pandemic levels, while retail, manufacturing and other sectors are closing that gap, according to state labor officials.
Maine’s jobless rate remained unchanged for the third straight month at 4.8 percent. That’s down from the pandemic high of 9.1 percent in April 2020, but higher than the 3.1 percent seen in February 2020, just before the pandemic ended a historic streak of record-low employment.
That jobless rate is below the national average (6.1 percent) and the average across New England (6.2 percent). Just two New England states — 2.8 percent in New Hampshire and 2.9 percent in 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.
But that rate of joblessness could be even higher. Maine’s labor force participation rate stands at 60.1 percent, up 0.1 percentage points from March but down 2.5 points from 14 months ago. 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, another 28,300 Mainers would be counted as jobless and the unemployment rate could be as high as 8.7 percent, according to state labor officials.