Maine’s jobless rate held steady at 4.8 percent in March, despite the biggest monthly jobs gain in five months.

The state added 4,100 jobs last month, mostly in the education and hospitality and leisure sectors, where the bulk of pandemic-related job losses have been concentrated.

Job gains last month were the highest since September, according to the Maine Department of Labor. The gains were still far less than what occurred during a massive rehiring last spring and summer, as businesses reopened and used federal assistance to bring employees back.

“There is definitely a clear pattern of improvement over the last several months,” said Glenn Mills, a labor economist at the Maine Center for Workforce Research and Information. “Payroll job gains are exactly where you expect them, in the industries that were most heavily hit by the pandemic.”

Despite monthly gains, Maine still has 27,000 fewer jobs than before the pandemic.

Maine is unlikely to repeat the huge hiring swings of May and June 2020, when the state added tens of thousands of jobs after losing nearly 100,000 jobs as the pandemic hit the state. But improving vaccination rates, added capacity at indoor businesses, improving weather and a positive summer tourism outlook could push hiring up in coming months.

“We had the kind of flattening in the fall when the COVID-19 surge was going on – we are largely through that now and more people are getting vaccinated, there is more economic activity,” Mills said. “Hopefully that continues to pick up. We certainly have a long way to go to full recovery, but it is better to have these gains.”

The statewide unemployment rate in March stayed unchanged from February at 4.8 percent. The state’s workforce participation rate, which gauges those who are working or looking for work, rose by one-tenth of a percent. If the number of people in the state’s workforce was the same as before the pandemic, the unemployment rate would be closer to 9 percent, according to the labor department.

Unemployment rates have not taken into account the specific challenges of this economic downturn, Mills said. Some people are unable to return to work or look for new jobs because of health concerns and parenting obligations without full-time classroom instruction and adequate child care.

“A lot of parents, if not for the pandemic they would have a job, but this situation prevents them from going to work because there is not someone to look after their kids,” Mills said. “That has been a theme throughout this whole thing: Because the pandemic prevented people from looking for work, it obscured the scale of job displacement.”


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