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Maine's Jobless Rate: Good News or Bad?
07/22/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Maine's unemployment rate held steady in June at 6.8 percent, for the second consecutive month. Gov. Paul LePage says that means 8,000 more people have found jobs in the state's private sector since he was elected two years ago. But data released from the Pew Charitable Trust indicates that the state actually lost jobs over a 12-month period. And Democratic leaders say LePage's policies have driven some employers away from the state. A.J. Higgins sheds light on the conflicting claims.

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Maine's Declining Jobless Rate: Good News or Bad? Listen

When Gov. Paul LePage finished his first six months in office two years ago, Maine's unemployment rate stood at 7.8 percent. Unemployment figures that came out last week show joblessness has dropped a full percentage point since then, prompting the governor to declare that there are 8,000 more Mainers on the job since he was elected in 2010.

LePage says the declining level of unemployment in the state is a direct result of lower taxes and smaller government policies favored by his administration. Not surprisingly, Democratic Maine Senate President Justin Alfond has a completely different take on the new unemployment figures, and LePage's role.

"We've only brought back one quarter of the jobs lost during the recession," Alfond says. "Two of our states just around us - Massachusetts and Vermont - 60 percent and 80 percent of those jobs have been fully recovered by now. So the job growth has been too slow, and Gov. LePage is partially responsible for it."

Alfond says LePage put off issuing bonds for state infrastructure improvements, slowing Maine's job recovery. He also says that the governor's opposition to companies such as Statoil North America, which wanted to invest $200 million in an offshore wind energy project here in Maine, has had a chilling effect on job creation in the state.

"We can talk about missed opportunities around bonding, you could talk about lack of attentiveness and initiative around jobs, like Kestrel Air, and you can talk about missed opportunities around jobs, like Statoil," Alfond says. "In all three of these examples missed the mark, and that as why our economy is growing too slowly."

Alfond and other Democratic leaders say data released last month from the Pew Charitable Trust actually refutes the governor's job growth claims. The organization says Maine was one of only three states to lose private sector jobs - about 1,500 - between April 2012 and April 2013, while New Hampshire and Massachusetts posted gains of 1 percent or more.

But at the Maine Department of Labor, Chief Economist Glenn Mills says the comparison is unfair. "If you pick any particular time, you could show Maine growing really well or declining - it just depends on the two points," Mills says.

Mills says jobs have been created under LePage, and that Maine is on its way to recovery from the recession. He says the year-to-year figures cited by critics that were released by the Pew Charitable Trust are simply a snapshot in time that could have turned out very differently, depending on when the shutter was clicked.

"What they did was pick a month, compared to that month, " Mills said. "Over that time period there were three different months where the over-the-year change was down and 20-some-odd months where the over-the-year change was up. So the characterization that we've lost jobs really isn't correct. That, and the estimates that those figures are based on, are volatile and we put that in the news release every month."

Still, 48,500 Mainers continue to seek jobs, and the state's Department of Labor hopes a $1.2 million federal grant will help train workers for new fields of employment. Julie Rabinowitz says the state Labor Department will use the money to continue regional workshops to assist workers with job-finding skills and options.

Rabinowitz says the longer a person is out of work in Maine, the harder it is to get back into the work force. "Part of it - there is a perceived stigma that people are out of work and they're not really trying hard, and they don't really want to work, so why should I hire them, because they won't want to work for me," Rabinowitz says.

Statewide June unemployment in Maine ranged from 5.6 percent in Cumberland County to 9.9 percent in Washington County. The national jobless rate for the same month stood at 7.6 percent.


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