There’s more than one way to measure Maine’s jobless rate

The unemployment rate hit a historic low in April, at 3 percent flat. That’s lower than it’s ever been in Maine.

But the unemployment rate reported each month is just one of six ways that labor economists assess the country’s labor force.

Those rates start with the most narrowly defined and gradually get more inclusive, estimating things like the number of people who are working part time when they want full-time work, or who are interested in working but were discouraged for one reason or another.

The official unemployment rate requires a survey respondent to say they’ve looked for work in the past four weeks.

Broken down, the estimate of those more specific measures looks a little like this, where the short-term and long-term unemployment estimates make up the standard unemployment rate (called U-3).

Add in discouraged workers and that’s the U-4 rate. And so on.

The figures show the estimate of long-term unemployment — people unemployed for 15 or more weeks — was up slightly for the first quarter of 2017. Marginally attached workers (a group that includes discouraged workers) were also up slightly for the quarter. But that’s the worst news among the estimates.

The number of workers seeking full-time gigs but only finding part-time work is down. So is shorter-term unemployment, of less than 15 weeks.

Those various rates give more detail to the state-level unemployment estimates, allowing for views at different types of joblessness. On the other hand, that increased detail means they cover a less precise period of time.

All of the estimates are released quarterly and represent a rolling annual average (that quarter and the previous three).

Any way you slice it, relative to other points back to 2003, unemployment measures in Maine are low, but not all are at historic lows like the overall U-3 rate.

The U-6 measure, the most inclusive, was lower in 2006, but that’s the only time since that expanded unemployment measure has been published. That rate groups in all of the people who have looked for work in the last year but couldn’t find it and those who are working part time but want full-time gigs.

The most restrictive measure, U-1, was also lower in 2006 and 2007. It only counts those out of work for 15 weeks or more.

Despite not being at all-time historic lows like the standard rate, those estimates show a generally favorable picture, as other major economic indicators show the state has essentially recovered from the recession (in the longest recovery in recent history).

[After 109 months, Maine’s finally recovered jobs lost to the recession]

Those figures are all measured in relation to the estimate of the total labor force, which was also back on the rise last year.

Those different measures of unemployment show that it’s illuminating to use more than just one benchmark rate to size up the state’s labor force.

And those various rates are just the start. For more discussion of recent labor market trends in Maine, check out the blog of Glenn Mills, the chief economist for the Department of Labor’s Center for Workforce Research and Information.

His latest posts cover the rosy revisions to the 2016 payroll job estimates and a deeper dive into the job churn that underlies all of the upward and downward movements in those employment numbers.

Darren Fishell

About Darren Fishell

Darren is a Portland-based reporter for the Bangor Daily News writing about the Maine economy and business. He's interested in putting economic data in context and finding the stories behind the numbers.