Despite the recent fanfare about Maine’s low headline employment rate, the state’s economy has still not fully recovered from the effects of the Great Recession, some eight years on. A variety of economic data demonstrates that Maine’s economy is smaller than it was in 2007, and while some of these data are consistent with the slow recovery in the U.S. as a whole, Maine’s picture is particularly troubling. The policies of the LePage administration have not only failed to bring jobs and prosperity to the state, but have actually made life harder for many Mainers.
Maine’s low unemployment rate is a red herring. The rate has declined primarily because of a decrease in the size of the labor force―not an increase in the number of people working. In January 2016, there were 23,000 fewer people working than before the recession hit. The percentage of people working is also lower than it has been in a decade. One further indicator of the poor employment situation is the increase in the U-6 unemployment rate compared to pre-recession levels. This rate, which includes people working part-time for economic reasons, shows that even when Mainers have found jobs, there are thousands of people working in jobs that don’t offer the hours or the income that they need to get by.
Size of the Economy
Given that there are fewer people working, it’s unsurprising that there were also fewer businesses in operation in 2013 (the most recent year with data available) than there were in 2007. Adjusted for inflation, the state’s gross domestic product (GDP), which roughly measures the overall size of the economy, is also down. Fewer people are working, so fewer goods are being produced, bought, and sold.
Income and Poverty
The most relevant indicators for Mainers’ everyday lives are those which hit their pocketbooks directly. In real terms, the median household income in Maine was $4,000 lower in 2014 than in 2007 (a decline of almost 7%). But its Maine’s poorest who have, time and again, faced the brunt of the administration’s policies. The overall poverty rate in Maine is still above pre-recession levels, and the child poverty rate is particularly disturbing. Cuts to MaineCare, Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) each contributed to these climbing poverty rates, and are all the more egregious in the face of this trend.