AUGUSTA – Maine’s jobless rate hit 6.7 percent in the month of October—the rosiest unemployment picture the Pine Tree State has seen since November of 2008.
The unemployment rate estimate for Maine was 6.7 percent in October, down from 6.9 percent in September and 7.2 percent one year ago, according to a press release from Department of Labor Commissioner Jeanne Paquette.
“The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated 47,300 were unemployed, down 3,800 over the year,” said Paquette.
Maine’s unemployment rate was better than the national average of 7.3 percent.
Of New England states, only New Hampshire (5.1) and Vermont (4.5) posted lower employment rates. Massachusetts (7.2), Rhode Island (9.2) and Connecticut (7.9) all experienced higher rates of unemployment.
The Department also notes that unemployment is down in all three metropolitan areas – Portland-South Portland-Biddeford (4.8), Bangor (5.5) and Lewiston-Auburn (5.5).
Maine’s unemployment rate has exceeded 6.9 percent since the early stages of the Great Recession in December of 2008. The rate peaked at 8.3 percent in March of 2010 but has steadily decreased for the last three years.
Still, the employment picture is a far stretch from the pre-recession rate of 4.6 percent in January of 2008.
The unemployment number is an indicator of the health of Maine’s economy, but it’s also an indicator of the health of Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s re-election campaign.
Job statistics became a hotspot in the campaign and the media after The Maine Wire reported exclusively that Democrat candidate for governor U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud was touting incorrect numbers in his campaigns first Web video.
In that ad, Michaud falsely claimed that Maine had lost jobs since one year ago. The Michaud campaign eventually secretly edited out the false claim from the ad and state Democrats have since retired the talking point.
But the governor’s non-Democrat opponent, unenrolled liberal Eliot Cutler, has also been harshly critical of the governor’s management of Maine’s economy.
In a November 4 opinion editorial for MaineToday Media, Cutler said part of LePage’s legacy was a “weaker economy.”
“Regrettably, [LePage's] most enduring legacy will be the damage his administration has done to Maine’s environment and economy,” Cutler said.
It’s difficult to predict what will happen to the economy a year from now, especially with ongoing debt-related shutdown-inducing crises in Washington, D.C., but if Maine’s employment picture continues to improve, Michaud and Cutler will have a difficult time attacking LePage’s economic policies.
In a press release issued Friday, LePage attributed the improving job situation to his administration’s tax and regulatory policies.
“We have been working hard for three years to improve the business climate in Maine so our companies can do what they do best: create jobs,” he said. “We have reduced taxes, cut red tape, streamlined regulations and made fiscally responsible decisions to right-size government. All of these factors make Maine more competitive in attracting and retaining jobs.”
The governor also highlighted “world-class” companies that have located in Maine during his tenure, “including Barclaycards, Irving Forest Products, Ameridial, Eimskip, Tempus Jets, Maine Wood Products, Molnlycke Health Care and many others.
“These companies recognize the great strides our administration has made to transform Maine state government from an adversary into a partner with a ‘can do’ attitude that moves at the speed of business,” he said. “Our pro-growth, pro-business policies have made it easier for them to create more jobs for Mainers.”
Senate Republicans echoed LePage.
“These unemployment numbers are a clear indication that Maine people are starting to get back to work and that the policies enacted by this Governor and Republicans in the Legislature are working,” said Senate Minority Leader Michael Thibodeau (R-Waldo). “It is encouraging to see that Maine is on the road to economic recovery.”
Assistant Minority Leader Roger Katz (R-Augusta) said the job gains Maine is experiencing are due in large part to “regulatory reforms that happened under Republican leadership and other measures that were taken to attract more business to Maine.”
Sen. Garrett Mason (R-Androscoggin), a rising conservative star, said the policies of the LePage administration and his Republican colleagues are working for Maine.
“The dwindling unemployment rate is the result of reforms that are creating jobs instead of more welfare programs,” he said.
Maine Wire Reporter