Maine reports stronger hiring, lower jobless rate in December

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Jan. 25—Maine employers ramped up hiring in December, adding the second-highest number of jobs in a single month since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Maine's unemployment rate fell to a seasonally adjusted estimate of 4.7 percent in December, the state's lowest rate since the start of the pandemic, according to figures released Tuesday by the Maine Department of Labor. The state's jobless rate was 3.1 percent in pre-pandemic February 2020 and hit a pandemic high of 10.6 percent in April 2020.

But it has hovered at just below 5 percent for months now, and December's jobless rate was only down 0.2 percentage points from the month before. The total share of state residents working a job or actively looking for work also remained roughly unchanged from the previous month.

About 1,800 jobs were added to Maine's nonfarm payroll workforce in the last month of 2021, according to the labor department. The total number of jobs in the state increased to 616,300, including an upwardly revised addition of 1,400 jobs in November.

"This is the highest number of jobs since July and the second-highest total in 21 months," the department said in a news release.

The leisure and hospitality sector hired the most Mainers in December with roughly 1,000 jobs added, followed by retail and wholesale trade, which added about 500 jobs. Job totals in most other sectors remained unchanged, the labor department reported.

Maine showed sluggish job creation for most of 2021 as employers contended with a diminished labor force and repeated coronavirus surges. At the same time, private companies advertised higher hourly wages and better benefits to attract scarce job applicants.

Last month's slight job gains have not significantly affected Maine's overall labor market. The state's unemployment rate has barely budged for nearly a year, and the share of Mainers working or actively looking for a job has remained at just over 60 percent for the past nine months, according to the department. Labor force participation just prior to the pandemic was about 2.5 percentage points higher, it said.

Total jobs in the state's private sector remained down 3.3 percent in December from just prior to the pandemic, while jobs in government remained down 6.1 percent. Maine had nearly 24,000 fewer jobs in December than it did in February 2020, immediately before the pandemic.