Maine May jobs numbers contain mixed news

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) today released state employment numbers for May, revealing that Maine was among the majority of states which experienced no statistically-significant change since April in the number of people employed in the state.  Unlike residents of most states, however, Mainers are still waiting for employment levels to recover to pre-recession levels. The estimated number of individuals employed in Maine technically fell by 900 individuals in the last month, further prolonging the state’s long slog toward recovery of all the jobs Maine lost during the Great Recession.

The disappointing May jobs report mirrors similarly lackluster national employment figures, which caused some national pundits to raise concerns about the state of the economy and a possible downturn in the near future. One month does not make a trend, and it’s important to recall that the monthly employment figures have a significant margin of error. It would be premature to assume an economic downturn or even slowdown from just one month’s numbers.

Nonetheless, today’s report, and the discussion around the earlier national numbers serves as a reminder of the fragility of Maine’s economic position. The state has mostly recovered from the depths of the Great Recession, but it still faces challenges, and any shock to the national economy could have serious consequences for Maine.

One positive indicator from this month’s numbers is that preliminary estimates show an additional 3,000 Mainers joined the labor market in May, following additional upticks in the first few months of the year. The return of discouraged workers to the labor force is essential for Maine’s long term economic future. However, Maine’s labor force remains smaller than it was in May 2015. It’s also worth remembering that the local unemployment rate in parts of Maine, especially rural areas, is much higher than the statewide rate – 6.0%in Aroostook and over 5% in Piscataquis, Somerset and Washington Counties.