State labor officials say the unemployment rate in Maine is likely higher than the official number because of several factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The official rate for April was 10.6 percent, but state Labor Department economist Glenn Mills says it was probably closer to 14 percent. The number of jobs lost in a month was over 100,000 and to be counted as unemployed, a person has to be not just out of work, but also looking for work.
“For people to be considered unemployed, they have to have been engaged in work search in the prior four weeks and have to have been available for work. Otherwise they are not in the labor force like retirees, like full time students. So in this case, because of personal safety concerns and because of stay at home orders, many people didn’t search for work,” Mills says.
“Many of them ended up being classified as not in the labor force, therefore the unemployment rate is not fully reflecting the amount of job loss.”
Mills says unemployment is measured using data from a survey of households and payrolls. But many of those who have lost jobs have not been looking for another. Others stayed home because of a fear of contracting COVID-19. Mills says it could be a year before researchers get a clear picture of what happened.