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COVID-19, Mismatched Job Opportunities Keeping Many Mainers From Returning to Work

Virus Outbreak Maine
Robert F. Bukaty
A worker at a gift shop regulated the number of customers allowed in the store due to the coronavirus pandemic, Thursday, July 30, 2020, in Portland, Maine. State officials reported more cases of COVID-19.

Unemployed workers in Maine say the risk of COVID-19 exposure and a lack of job opportunities are still keeping many from returning to the workforce.

That's according to the results of a survey released by the Maine Department of Labor on Thursday. More than a third of respondents said few job opportunities were available that matched their skillset. Child care, transportation, and low wages and benefits were also found to be significant barriers.

Andy O'Brien with the Maine AFL-CIO says that largely echoes what his organization is hearing from unemployed Mainers. He's hoping that a new unemployment navigator system established in recent legislation will make it easier for Mainers to find and apply to long-term positions.

"To help people get into quality jobs, union apprenticeships, the jobs that pay living wages," O'Brien says.

Samantha Dina, the director of special projects with the Labor Department, says the state is working to address issues such as child care and affordable housing. And she says the agency is looking to expand career counselors into local communities, so they can more easily work with clients and get them into jobs.

"So really getting folks out into the community, to help support them, with the workshops, the tools, the postings that we're able to do," Dina says.

The survey was administered in July. Earlier this month, expanded federal unemployment benefits expired for thousands of Maine workers.