Maine’s workforce is shrinking. The latest data from the Maine Department of Labor indicates 623,000 Mainers are gainfully employed, almost 62 percent of the total population and some 2 percent higher than the national average. Almost 100,000 Mainers are employed in some level of government – 16 percent of the workforce – yet this is the lowest number in several years.
As recently as 2013, 707,000 Mainers were employed around the state. Since then, 84,000 Mainers have retired, left or lost their jobs, or are otherwise not engaged in the labor force. Currently, only 9,500 Mainers are claiming unemployment benefits, hence a record 3 percent unemployment rate – the lowest number since recordkeeping began in 1976!
Even before Maine businesses ramp up for the pending seasonal influx of visitors, many Maine companies, as well as small mom-and-pop entrepreneurs, cannot find enough help. This spring, employers are struggling to hire trained employees for increasingly sophisticated jobs, while even unskilled positions are open in almost every area of the state. With reduced limits on seasonal-employee student visas in place, the demand for summer employees of all types is extremely high. Shifts in policies and political machinations in Washington, D.C., also make it difficult for employers in resort areas such as Mount Desert Island to get returning staff back into the country as well. It literally took an act of Congress last week to get returning workers with H-2B visas back into the pipeline. With many larger properties already open for the season, those missing workers were sorely missed.
This pressure increases the pirating of seasonal employees from other year-round employers by enticing individuals with bonuses and higher seasonal salaries, as well as benefits unimaginable only a few short years ago. This lack of potential employees stymies growth, reduces the likelihood of new business creation and generates an overall shortfall in tax revenue – affecting everyone.
The need to retrain employees who have lost jobs in the paper industry has been recognized. But businesses need to further raise their game by providing internships and on-the-job training. Civic groups and businesses are starting to work together to provide realistic child care options so both members of growing families can work if they wish (or if they must). Still more effort and resources are needed to help those able and willing to work, to become employable.
But the bottom line is that Maine needs more employable residents.