January Workforce Conditions in Maine Bookmark and Share

March 16, 2021


January Workforce Conditions in Maine

NOTE: Labor force and nonfarm payroll jobs estimates for prior years have been revised. Updated data indicates that there was an average of 7,500 more jobs and that the unemployment rate was 0.8 percentage points lower in 2020 than was previously published. Data revisions are described in this blog.

AUGUSTA - After three months of little change during the fall virus surge, nonfarm payroll jobs, labor force participation, and unemployment all increased. In January:

  • Nonfarm payroll jobs were up 2,000
  • Labor force participation increased to 59.9 percent
  • The unemployment rate was 5.2 percent

Seasonally Adjusted Estimates

Nonfarm Payroll Jobs Estimates The number of nonfarm payroll jobs increased 2,000 to 603,200 in January, the largest gain since September. State government education added 1,200 jobs as University of Maine campuses brought back staff with the return of students. Many staff had been laid off in December after students were sent home at Thanksgiving to complete the fall semester online. The leisure and hospitality sector added 600 jobs, mostly related to winter recreation. Changes in most other sectors were small.

There were 37,800 fewer jobs than a year ago. The six percent rate of job loss is the same as for the nation. The number of jobs remained down 15,700 (22 percent) in the leisure and hospitality sector and 6,700 (five percent) in public and private education, both K-12 and higher ed combined. Those two sectors, which accounted for 22 percent of jobs a year ago, have experienced 59 percent of the net job loss over the last year. Other significant decreases over the last year were in healthcare and social assistance, down 3,700 jobs (3.5 percent), and retail trade, down 3,100 jobs (3.9 percent).

The construction, manufacturing, finance, wholesale trade, and professional and business services sectors were close to their levels from one year ago, having recovered most of the jobs lost at the beginning of the pandemic. Federal government jobs were up 300 as the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard added to its workforce.

Labor Force and Unemployment Estimates The number of unemployed increased 1,700 to 35,100, pushing the unemployment rate up slightly from 5.0 to 5.2 percent in January. The increase in unemployment was due to a 0.4 percentage point increase in labor force participation to 59.9 percent. These comparisons are to newly revised estimates for December.

The labor force is comprised of employed and unemployed people. Jobless people not seeking work, including retirees and many students, are not in the labor force and not counted as unemployed. The increase in unemployment in January was the result of people returning to work search after a period out of the labor force.

Labor force participation in January remained 3.2 percentage points lower than a year ago, representing 31,400 fewer people. If participation was as high as a year ago, the number of unemployed would be nearly twice as high and the unemployment rate would be 9.4 percent.

**U.S and New England Household Survey Estimates **

The U.S. unemployment rate was 6.3 percent in January (and 6.2 percent in February) and the New England rate was 7.0 percent. January rates for other states in the region were 3.6 percent in New Hampshire, 3.2 percent in Vermont, 7.8 percent in Massachusetts, 7.2 percent in Rhode Island, and 8.1 percent in Connecticut.

Not Seasonally Adjusted Substate Estimates

The not seasonally adjusted statewide unemployment rate of 6.4 percent for January was up from 3.3 percent one year ago. Unemployment rates were lowest in Sagadahoc County (5.1 percent) and highest in Washington County (8.4 percent).

Unemployment rates were below the statewide average in all three metro areas: Bangor (5.9 percent), Portland-South Portland (5.7 percent), and Lewiston-Auburn (6.0 percent).

February estimates will be release Friday, March 26 at 10 a.m. (Data Release Schedule https://www.maine.gov/labor/cwri/releaseDates.html ).

This release is available here - https://www.maine.gov/labor/cwri/news/release.html .

Labor force and unemployment data is available here - https://www.maine.gov/labor/cwri/laus1.html .

Nonfarm payroll jobs data is available here - https://www.maine.gov/labor/cwri/ces1.html .

Monthly workforce estimates are cooperatively produced and released by the Maine Department of Labor, Center for Workforce Research and Information and the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.


  1. Preliminary seasonally-adjusted labor force estimates, including rates (labor force participation, employment, and unemployment rates), and levels (labor force, employed, and unemployed) tend to move in a direction for several months and then reverse course. Those directional trends are largely driven by a smoothing procedure and may not indicate a change in underlying workforce conditions. Annual revisions (published in March each year) tend to moderate or eliminate those directional patterns. A comparison of 2020 preliminary and revised estimates of labor force and unemployment rates, as well as nonfarm payroll jobs, is available at https://www.maine.gov/labor/cwri/blogs/2021workforcedata_revisions.pdf
  2. The 90 percent confidence interval for statewide unemployment rates for January is 1.0 percentage points above or below the published estimate.
  3. To assess job growth, we recommend looking at nonfarm jobs from the payroll survey rather than at resident employment from the household survey. The payroll survey is larger, has smaller margins of error, and is subject to smaller revisions. A 2016 blog on the differences in accuracy of the two measures provides more context at https://www.maine.gov/labor/cwri/blogs/imprecise_data.pdf
  4. Nonfarm payroll jobs estimates tend to be volatile from month to month because there is variability in the sample of reporting employers and their representativeness for the universe of all employers. Additionally, seasonal adjustment is imperfect because weather, the beginning and ending of school semesters, holidays, and other events do not always occur with the same timing relative to the pay period that includes the 12th day of the month, which is the reference period. This sometimes exacerbates monthly volatility. Users should look to the trend over multiple months rather than the change from one specific month to another. Estimates for the period from April 2019 to September 2020 will be replaced with actual payroll data in March 2022. Those benchmark revisions are likely to show less volatility than preliminary estimates do