2018 Workforce Data Revisions: Less Monthly Variability than Previously Indicated

Annual revisions to monthly workforce estimates for Maine have been published. Based on more complete data, revisions indicate that the unemployment rate and size of the labor force were little changed throughout 2018. The number of nonfarm payroll jobs was somewhat higher early in the year and lower later in the year than previous estimates indicated. Data cited in this brief is seasonally adjusted.

Unemployment Rate

Preliminary estimates released each month indicated that unemployment was as low as 2.7 percent in the spring and as high as 3.4 percent in the last three months of 2018. Revised rates indicate that unemployment changed little during the year, gradually rising from 3.2 percent in the first three months of the year to 3.5 percent in the last five months. Given the size of the survey sample and margins of error in the estimates, there has essentially been no change in the statewide unemployment rate for more than two years.

Unemployment has been below 4.0 percent each month since December 2015. At more than three years, this is the longest period of such low unemployment since the current estimating methodology was implemented in 1976, eclipsing the previous long of 22 months from 1999 to 2001.

Civilian Labor Force

Preliminary estimates indicated that the size of the civilian labor force increased sharply from January to August before contracting later in 2018. Revised estimates indicate that the labor force remained relatively unchanged throughout 2018 and there was less variability in 2017 as well.

The size of the labor force averaged 698,700 in 2018, up just 0.2 percent from 2005. The state’s low rate of labor force growth over more than a decade is the result of the decline in the number of births that occurred after the 1980s, which has yielded fewer young labor force entrants and little change in the working-age population.

Nonfarm Payroll Jobs

Preliminary estimates indicated there was a sharp rise in the number of nonfarm payroll jobs in the first five months of 2018 and then little change the rest of the year. Revised data indicates that the number of jobs increased more sharply in the latter part of 2017 and then was relatively unchanged throughout 2018.

Though the year ended with about the same number of jobs as 2017, the average number of jobs in 2018 was the highest on record. Private sector job gains were spread through most industries, with the largest gains in the professional and business services sector and the manufacturing sector. Government jobs changed little in 2018. A small decline in state government jobs was offset by similar increases in both federal and local governments. The three levels of government combined accounted for 15.9 percent of nonfarm payroll jobs, the lowest share since 1957.

Maine has an imbalanced population structure. The state has larger numbers of people in their 50s and 60s who will be leaving the workforce for retirement in the years ahead than young people who will enter the workforce. With historically tight labor market conditions, it will be increasingly important that we attract young working adults to the state to maintain the size of our workforce.

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