PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The state’s economy is back to where it was before the recession when it comes to jobs, a feat some economists thought might be impossible because of its shrinking workforce.
The state has returned to the pre-recession peak of about 620,800 jobs, meaning it has made up the 25,000 or so jobs that were shed, and that happened despite a smaller pool of workers than before the recession, said Glenn Mills, chief economist for the Maine Department of Labor.
“Some people didn’t believe we’d ever have the same number of jobs as we had in 2007 because of the decline in working age population,” he said.
Mills, who recently issued a report entitled “Full Recovery,” notes that the February unemployment rate was 3.2 percent, tied for the lowest on record in Maine. That shows the state, which has 1.3 million residents, is near full employment, a term that means there are jobs for all people who are able and willing to work.
But Mills acknowledged that the recovery depends on where you live in Maine.
“Some areas are still struggling, and some areas are booming,” he said.
The state surpassed the pre-recessionary jobs level for the first time in January, and the first-quarter average is expected to remain atop that level, he said.
Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont already hit the milestone for jobs, said Charles Colgan, professor emeritus at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service.
Rhode Island is nearly there alongside Maine, leaving only Connecticut lagging behind in New England, Colgan said. Connecticut was especially hard hit by job losses in the financial sector.
Maine has lagged in recovery because of the paper mill industry’s woes and slower growth in health care jobs. Also, state and municipal government jobs remain behind pre-recession levels, Colgan said.
Overall, the current economic picture is good. Wages are rising as employers compete to hire and retain workers, Mills said. There’s evidence to suggest that people in economically struggling areas are relocating to be closer to the jobs in southern Maine, he said.
Going forward, however, the state faces the same impediments as before, including an aging workforce that threatens to undermine future growth.
“The fact that we got back to pre-recession levels and are now expanding the economy is good news,” Colgan said. “But some of the same factors that have made it difficult to recover are still in play and are going to make job growth in the future continue to be difficult.”