Mill job losses add to long decline for Maine paper industry

Maine pulp and paper mills have taken a series of hits this year with the closure of three mills and the cumulative loss of about 1,000 jobs.

It’s an industry in decline, leaving hundreds out of work in Old TownEast Millinocket and, starting Dec. 1, in Bucksport.

There’s more to this story than numbers, as is clear from the way workers in Bucksport are taking the news today, but the long-term trend in jobs and wages across the industry gives some sense of the challenge Maine faces in trying to remake paper manufacturing into the employment engine it once was.

(Notes of caution: Data from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages — the most detailed product from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics — aren’t intended for viewing as a time series, but we’re doing it anyway. Mostly, the survey cautions against comparing quarter-to-quarter changes that could be the result of changes in classification or reporting gaps in the federal unemployment insurance program. Also: the wage data is not adjusted for inflation and includes bonuses, stock options, severance pay and a number of take-home pay detailed here, if you’re curious.)

Politicians are huddling around news that Verso Paper will close its Bucksport mill Dec. 1 to talk about what’s next for those workers and for the industry. From the employment and establishment figures above, it’s clear that paper mill jobs have long been on the decline — a trend also in the supersector of manufacturing — but the recession started in 2007 prompted the number of mills to drop as well.

As for what’s next for those workers and the state’s paper industry, that promises to be a long conversation.

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.