The Coastal Packet: Maine's labor problems

Saturday, July 7

Maine's labor problems

David Vail And John Dorrer, Press Herald


One-fourth of Maine’s 20,000 officially unemployed this April had been out of work more than six months. Rural unemployment is far higher than in metro regions, with Washington County’s 5 percent rate more than double Cumberland County’s.

The actual number of Mainers either unemployed, involuntarily working part time, or discouraged from job seeking is twice the official unemployment level.

Labor force participation among Maine adults age 25 to 54 dropped from 87 percent in 2001 to 82 percent in 2017. That decline represents 30,000 more working-age Mainers not participating in the economy. In rural Somerset County, only 58 percent of prime-age adults are in the workforce and many scrape by, combining safety net programs like food stamps and disability insurance with unreported “gray market” activities.

Most of the 30,000 jobs Maine lost in the Great Recession were in the male-dominant manufacturing and construction sectors. Many former family breadwinners exhausted unemployment benefits without finding new full-time jobs and never received appropriate counseling and training for jobs in the growing service sectors.

In 2016, 21 percent of Maine men with less than a high school diploma were out of the workforce, compared to less than 6 percent of men with a college degree. A similar pattern holds for women.
Among Mainers age 25 to 54, “deaths of despair” surged between 2000 and 2015. The suicide rate rose 45 percent, accidental drug-related deaths increased by 577 percent, and deaths from alcohol-related illnesses 185 percent.

Nationally, clinical depression is more than twice as common among unemployed people as among job holders. Nearly one in five people out of work a year or more suffer from depression. Hopelessness is part of their story. Seventy percent of those unemployed less than five weeks expect to find jobs within a month, but the figure drops to 29 percent for those jobless a year or more.

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