On the first Friday of each month (unless there’s a government shutdown), the Department of Labor releases the official national unemployment report. The results often lead the nightly news and provide headlines in the next day’s newspapers. Financial markets and political polls rise and fall on these findings. In Maine, there is a similar, if more subdued, reaction around the middle of the month upon release of the official state unemployment figures. But just what do these numbers mean and do they paint the most accurate picture of how workers in Maine and across the nation are faring in the economy currently and over the long term?
The most recent official state report finds the official unemployment rate at 6.7%, down from a peak of 8.4% in early 2010, but still well above the 4-5% rate in the years preceding the Great Recession of 2007-2009. In MECEP’s recently released report, The State of Working Maine in 2013, economist Joel Johnson recommends a more instructive set of data.
“The official unemployment rate may be the most well-known indicator of unemployment and the health of the labor market, the insight it provides is limited,” Joel writes. “First, it only counts workers who are in the labor force. Workers who have stopped looking for work are not accounted for. Second, the official rate counts anyone who has a job as ‘employed’ even if they are working only a few hours a week. Part-time workers and full-time workers are counted the same.”
For more revealing data, Joel points to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics quarterly “U6” report which counts unemployed workers (workers who have actively been searching for work in the last four weeks), marginally attached workers (workers who have stopped actively searching for work), and involuntary part-time workers (those working part-time but wanting to work full-time).
“On average over the past twelve months, 49,400 Mainers were unemployed and actively searching for work,” Joel notes from the U6 data. “An additional 52,000 had recently left the labor force altogether or were working part-time for economic reasons.”
As this chart shows, the overall trend in the U6 data shows a much more sobering view of the employment reality for Maine workers since the beginning of the recent recession.
“Maine remains stuck in the worst recovery since the Great Depression,” Joel emphasizes.
“Maine has recovered (just) 9,900 of the 29,100 payroll jobs lost as a result of the recession,” Joel also notes adding that “more than one-third of Maine’s unemployed workers have been without a job for more than six months.”
For more, check out the full report here and look for future blog posts on other findings it contains about The State of Working Maine in 2013.