Analysis from Jessica Carson, Ph.D. and Sarah Boege at Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire and commissioned by the John T. Gorman Foundation
This section provides updates on Maine’s unemployment situation in June, drawing on data published on July 17, 2020 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For the timeliest indicator—weekly initial unemployment insurance claims—data are available for Maine through August 1, 2020. Initial Unemployment Insurance Claims by Week
Maine’s Unemployment Statistics
Maine’s unemployment insurance claims have been made public regularly and are provided in Figure 1. Initial unemployment insurance claims indicate the number of people who newly file for unemployment during a given week and show changes in the labor market earlier than official unemployment statistics become available. From early March to early August, Maine’s highest weekly number of initial unemployment claims came in the week ending on April 4, 2020, with 30,910 unemployment insurance claims. A second smaller spike occurred at the end of May (16,667 claims the week ending on May 23), followed by a sharp decline at the beginning of June. In the week ending August 1, 1,602 initial claims were filed. This is the lowest weekly claims number since claims began to rise with the pandemic, although still not returning to early March’s numbers of fewer than 1,000 claims per week.
Figure 2 compares Maine with New England and the United States over this same four-month period. To facilitate comparison, the graph shows weekly claims as a share of the total February 2020 labor force in each region. The February 2020 labor force is used as an estimate of the “usual” labor force, pre-pandemic. Since the beginning of June, all three places have seen an overall downward trend in the number of weekly initial unemployment insurance claims. Despite the reduction in new initial unemployment claims in recent months, the total number of initial claims filed in Maine since March 8 is massive, at 194,421 initial claims, equaling 28.3 percent of the February labor force. Each initial claim generally represents one person, but as the pandemic continues there may be more people who are applying for unemployment insurance a second time when workplaces reopen and subsequently reclose.
Unemployment rates dropped again in June for Maine, New England, and the U.S., following May’s decline and April’s peak (Figure 3). While these decreases are welcome, unemployment rates remain considerably elevated over pre-pandemic levels. Maine’s unemployment rate fell from 9.4 percent in May to 6.6 percent in June, an even sharper drop than that between April and May (from 10.4 percent to 9.4 percent). Even so, Maine’s June unemployment rate of 6.6 percent is still more than double that of January (3.1 percent).
New England’s unemployment rate also fell from May to June, although by less than one percentage point (14.0 percent to 13.4 percent). As was also true in May, New England’s June unemployment rate is higher than that of the United States (13.4 percent compared to 11.1 percent).
Figure 4 (below) shows more detail for each New England state between March and June. Unemployment rates fell in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island between May and June, while Connecticut and Massachusetts experienced slight increases. At 6.6 percent, Maine has the lowest June 2020 unemployment rate of any New England state. The highest New England rate in June comes in Massachusetts, at 17.4 percent, and more than five percentage points higher than the next closest New England state (Rhode Island at 12.4 percent). Job losses differ by state for a variety of reasons, including industrial mix and proximity to larger cities (for example, Boston in Massachusetts and New York City for Connecticut). Despite the May to June declines, unemployment rates remain much higher across New England than pre-pandemic.
Change in Number of Jobs by Sector
This section describes job losses by sector, using the BLS’s Current Employment Statistics program, a monthly
survey of businesses and government agencies that collects data on payroll employment, hours, and earnings. The
change in the estimated number of jobs by sector from May 2020 to June 2020 gives a sense of which industries
are being hardest hit, which are recovering, and which are remaining less affected.
After substantial job losses in April and overall gains in May, June realized continued job gains in Maine and the United States. The U.S. gained 4.8 million jobs across all non-farm employment, from May to June 2020. All sectors reported job gains for the first time since the pandemic hit the U.S. in earnest in March. In June, Maine gained 19,000 jobs, but changes were uneven across sectors. Maine’s Information sector remained stable, and Maine job losses appeared in Government (down 300 jobs) and Construction (down 500 jobs). As in earlier months, local job cuts overwhelmingly drove losses in government, likely due to municipalities anticipating the pandemic’s effects on government budgets.
Like in May, U.S. job gains in June were led by the Leisure and Hospitality sector. Nationwide the sector—which was the hardest hit in April—gained 1,239,000 jobs in May and another 2,088,000 jobs in June. Although Maine’s Leisure and Hospitality sector gained 5,900 jobs between May and June, the state’s Education and Health Services sector gained more, adding 6,100 jobs. The latter may be due to preparation for the upcoming school year, the reopening and scaling up of child care centers, and the reopening of non-emergency health services such as dental services. It should be noted that, while these job gains are welcomed, neither the United States nor Maine are anywhere near back to the number of jobs that existed in February 2020.
All New England states saw job gains for non-farm employment from May to June, although none have recovered to their February levels. Unlike the United States as a whole, each New England state reported job losses in at least one sector—although in each state, most sectors gained jobs. Like in Maine, the Education and Health Services led job gains in Vermont and New Hampshire, while the Leisure and Hospitality sector led job gains in the rest of the New England states. In Massachusetts and Rhode Island, the Government sector lost the most jobs, while other states’ loss leaders were less patterned—in Financial Activities (Connecticut),
Manufacturing (New Hampshire), and Information (Vermont). Chart 1 in the full Carsey report has more detail on each state.
Although unemployment rates are still quite high, the June numbers build on the positive progress made in May. Like in May, June delivered net job gains in Maine, New England, and nationally. Maine once again has the lowest unemployment rate in New England and continues to fare better than other harder hit states like Massachusetts and Rhode Island. June job gains in Maine and throughout New England also continue the progress begun in May in lower-paid sectors that had previously been hit with huge job losses, such as the Leisure and Hospitality sector. These job gains are essential for supporting lower-wage workers who are the least likely to have the resources to sustain a long period of unemployment. Growth in these industries will become especially important as pandemic-specific responses and resources wind down, including moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures and as the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program expired at the end of July. However, it has yet to be seen if these gains will be sustained and if these sectors will continue growth approaching their pre-pandemic levels; unemployment is still high. Particularly important in the next 30 to 60 days is the uncertainty around schools reopening in fall. As fears that re-populated schools and universities could trigger another spike in COVID-19 cases, both health concerns and fear of triggering another shutdown weigh heavily on parents, educators, workers, and employers.
About the Data
Although national-level labor market statistics for June 2020 have been available for a few weeks, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released statistics for all 50 states on July 17. This release includes unemployment insurance claims, unemployment rate, number of jobs by sector, and employment by sector. Additional statistics and visualizations, including for the nation and each state are available through the related Carsey School of Public Policy publication.