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Help Wanted Signs A Common Sight Around Maine as Unemployment Rates Drop

Hiring sign at Goodwill in Rockland.
Keith Shortall/MPBN
Hiring sign at Goodwill in Rockland.

Keith Shortall reports on the labor shortage in Maine, particularly along the midcoast.

You may have noticed a few more “help wanted” signs in business storefronts in Maine this summer. Some employers are reporting it’s hard to find skilled help, others point to higher paying seasonal jobs, particularly along the coast, that are attracting job-seekers.

Hiring sign at Woodlands Memory Care in Rockland.
Credit Keith Shortall/MPBN
Hiring sign at Woodlands Memory Care in Rockland.

The sounds of shopping, clothes hangers screeching along the racks, fill the Goodwill retail store on Route One in Rockland.

On a really busy day all three of the registers are open, while a crew out back sorts donated items, and bring them out to stock the shelves.

This store is now looking to fill two positions but could use three, and expects to post openings for two supervisor positions within the month. And it may not be an easy search

Heather Steeves is the spokesperson for Goodwill Industries of Northern New England. She says the summer months are a particularly hard time to attract workers at a starting wage of $9.15 per hour.

“We’re able to retain workers in the winter but once the summer season comes, people can rake in these great tips from the tourism industry they tend to do that. And even our full time employees will drop down to part-time or casual for the summer, so they can make that extra income,” Steeves says.

She says Goodwill has the advantage of A good benefits package and a mission of helping the community. But as a non-profit, it just can’t afford to increase its pay to the levels of many seasonal and tourism related employers.

And Goodwill isn’t alone. There’s a “hiring now” sign in front of the nursing care center across the street, and in fast food convenience stores throughout the area.

A store in Thomaston with a Now Hiring sign.
Credit Keith Shortall/MPBN
A store in Thomaston with a Now Hiring sign.

"We’ve seen this repeatedly over the years, when the economy is really humming, when things tighten up, wages rise, and it’s a more competitive environment,” says Glenn Mills, Chief Economist for the Maine Department of Labor.

He says the situation is reflected by the unemployment rate for Maine which was 3.7% in June.

“We haven’t had unemployment that low since the early 2000s,” Mills says. “Some parts of the state, particularly in the south and along the coast, we’re seeing unemployment rates that haven’t been this low in 15 years.”

In fact Mill says Rockland’s unemployment rate for June was just 3%, which can be a challenge for many employers.

McDonald's in Thomaston now hiring.
Credit Keith Shortall/MPBN
McDonald's in Thomaston now hiring.

“For someone offering a certain wage level, if a job candidate can find a different job for higher pay or a better work situation or schedule, it can become very difficult for some employers to find staff,” says Mills. “So typically when unemployment is low, wages go up.”

And “Help Wanted” and “Now Hiring” signs stay up in business windows a lot longer.

Copyright 2016 Maine Public

Keith Shortall is MPBN's News and Public Affairs Director. He grew up in Thomaston, Maine and graduated from Bowdoin College in 1982, majoring in philosophy. He began his career in commercial broadcasting in Portland, before moving to MPBN in 1989. Keith's interests include music (if you consider drummers to be musicians), and theater.

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