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At 5.7%, Maine’s jobless continues to fall under LePage administration

Maine UI rate april“Help Wanted” signs are popping up across the state as tourism season begins in earnest and the economic activity is reflected in April’s unemployment report.

Maine’s jobless rate fell in April to 5.7 percent — its lowest point since September of 2008 and better than the national average of 6.3 percent, according to employment statistics released Friday.

“Rates for other states were 4.4 percent in New Hampshire, 3.3 percent in Vermont, 6.0 percent in Massachusetts, 8.3 percent in Rhode Island, and 6.9 percent in Connecticut,” the Maine Department of Labor said in a press release. 

In real terms, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 7,400 fewer Mainers are unemployed since this time last year.

“Over the last year, job growth was spread across a number of sectors,” said MDOL. 

Maine’s workforce participation rate – a key statistic that places unemployment numbers in context – has surpassed the national rate now for 79 consecutive months. Nationally, declines in the unemployment rate have been attributed to a shrinking work force participation rate, as workers who exit the labor market are not technically considered unemployed. However, in Maine’s case, the relatively higher workforce participation rate means more of the unemployment decline can be attributed to actual job creation.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage touted decrease in jobless claims in a press release Friday.

“Thousands more people are working in the private sector now than when I took office,” said LePage. “But we must continue our efforts to transform Maine from a high-tax state with a large welfare population to a low-tax, business-friendly state that encourages companies to create good-paying career jobs for Maine families.”

LePage – the former general manger of the Marden’s store chain – has made pro-business policies the hallmark of his administration. As part of his efforts to make Maine more friendly to entrepreneurs and the private sector, LePage signed historic income tax rate reductions in 2011. Those cuts decreased the tax liability for Maine’s top marginal bracket from 8.5 percent to 7.95 percent and eliminated completely the state tax burden on 70,000 low-income Mainers.

Other initiatives geared toward growing the economy failed to garner support from the Democrat-controlled Legislature last year. LePage took a jab at his opponents for shooting down two initiatives he said would have helped create jobs.

“[W]e proposed Open for Business zones, which would have enticed large companies that offer high-paying career jobs to Maine. But the Democrats pursued an aggressive, anti-business agenda this legislative session,” he said. “They even prevented teens from getting jobs in movie theatres and bowling alleys.”

LePage’s Open for Business Zones would have created two zones – one at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station base, another at the former Loring Air Force Base – where companies could relocate and receive substantial incentives to do so. Large companies relocating to one of the zones would have received a 100 percent corporate income tax exemption for 10 years, a 50 percent exemption for the next 10 years, and sales tax exemptions for a similar time period. The law also included a limited “Right-to-Work” provision, which means employees of prospective companies would not be forced to join or pay dues to a labor union. Companies would have been eligible for these benefits so long as they invested more than $50 million and created at least 1,500 full time jobs.

The governor’s quip about movie theaters and bowling alleys is reference to L.D. 1698, a bill that would have helped students acquire permits to work at those locations during the summer. That bill, like the Open for Business Zones, was shot down on a party line vote.

The performance of Maine’s economy under the LePage administration will undoubtedly factor heavily in the current campaign season, as LePage’s opponents – independent Eliot Cutler and Democrat Michael Michaud – seek to portray the impact of his governorship as negative. But if the good economic news continues to flow, it will be difficult for LePage’s opponents to criticize his job performance — at least with regard to the economy.

Michaud’s previous efforts to tie LePage to a sour economy have failed spectacularly, including a claim in his campaign’s kick-off video  that was secretly edited out because it was not true.

Steve Robinson
Editor, The Maine Wire

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