Maine’s unemployment rate increased slightly in January to 5.2 percent, but a state agency said the increase is actually a positive sign.

The 0.2 percentage point increase from December’s 5 percent unemployment rate is attributed to a 0.4 percentage point increase in labor force participation in January, according to a report issued Monday by the Maine Department of Labor. Workforce participation – the number of people working or actively seeking a job – rose to 59.9 percent, it said. That figure remains about 3.2 percentage points lower than a year earlier, representing 31,400 fewer people.

The number of nonfarm payroll jobs in Maine increased by 2,000 to 603,200 jobs in January, the largest gain since September, according to the labor department. State government education added 1,200 jobs as University of Maine campuses brought back staff with the return of students, it said. 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 in January, the department said, mostly related to winter recreation. Changes in most other sectors were small, it said.

Overall, there are about 37,800 fewer jobs in Maine than there were immediately before the coronavirus pandemic struck, according to the labor department. That’s about 6 percent fewer jobs than before the pandemic, equal to the share of jobs lost at the national level.

The U.S. unemployment rate in January was 6.3 percent. The New England jobless rate was 7 percent.

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