AUGUSTA – Maine’s unemployment rate remained at 5.7 percent for the month of May, according to government figures released Friday, but opponents of Republican Gov. Paul LePage remain skeptical.
The preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate estimate was 5.7 percent, down from 6.7 percent one year ago, for a total decline in unemployed persons of 7,000 since this time last year.
“The share of the population that is employed was estimated at 61.6 percent, well above the U.S. average of 58.9 percent,” the Maine Department of Labor added in its press release. “May was the 80th consecutive month the employment to population ratio was above the national average.”
Nationally, the U.S. unemployment rate estimate remained at 6.3 percent.
Regionally, the New England unemployment rate averaged 5.9 percent, according to the department. Vermont and New Hampshire continue to lead New England, with unemployment rates of 3.3 and 4.4 percent, respectively. Rates for other states were 5.6 percent in Massachusetts, 8.2 percent in Rhode Island, and 6.9 percent in Connecticut.
Every jobs report from now until November will likely become a political football. And recent months have seen a concerted effort by Democratic groups to cast the performance of Maine’s economy under Gov. Paul LePage in a negative light.
The Maine Center for Economic Policy, a Democratic nonprofit group, has released a series of blog posts which claim that Maine’s unemployment rate – the lowest rate since October of 2008 – is actually not good news.
“For months Governor LePage has claimed declining unemployment rates show his policies are working, but is Maine doing better than elsewhere in the nation?” MECEP Executive Director Garrett Martin begins a recent post.
“Maine’s economy continues to under-perform compared to most other states,” writes Martin, whose educational background is in public affairs.
Based on similar blog posts from Martin over the last 6 months, a litany of Democratic officials, from U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud, who is running for governor, to Democratic leaders in the State House, have brushed aside Maine’s falling unemployment rates to insist Maine’s economy is underperforming compared to other states.
But Martin’s cherry-picked analysis stands in stark contrast to a review of all 50 states’ post-recession job creation published by the New York Times.
“Employment rates have rebounded in some states with strong growth, like Utah, Nebraska and Montana,” Binyamin Appelbaum wrote for the Times.
“But only three states — Maine, Texas and Utah — have retraced more than half their losses,” he wrote.
Martin did not respond to an email requesting comment on the apparent conflict between his opinion of Maine’s job growth and that of a reputable liberal-leaning national newspaper.
One reason Martin’s perspective is off base may be the failure of MECEP’s model to adjust for population changes, which can have a substantial impact on job creation and employment statistics.
The Times’ model does account for population, which is especially important considering Maine is one of the few states experiencing a decline in population.
This is not the first time a major U.S. publication has reportedly positively on Maine’s economic growth under the LePage administration.
In January, an article published in the Wall Street Journal said Maine is one two states that have seen “big turnarounds in their economies.”
The health of Maine’s economy will continue to play a vital role in the ongoing debate among gubernatorial candidates LePage, Michaud, and independent Eliot Cutler.
Michaud attempted to bash LePage right out of the gate, stating in his campaign’s first Web video that Maine had seen a net loss of jobs since last year.
That claim turned out to be false.
After the error was exposed by The Maine Wire, Michaud’s campaign quietly edited it out of the video.
LePage has been quick to tout monthly labor reports as evidence of his policies’ efficacy in growing the economy.
“Just this week, the New York Times affirmed the efforts we have made to recover jobs lost during the great recession,” LePage in a press release Friday.
“Thousands more Mainers are working in the private sector now than when I took office,” he said.
The governor’s office notes that the number of private-sector jobs is up 9,900 from one year ago, while the number of government jobs is down 700.