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Mass. unemployment rate rises for third consecutive month

The Massachusetts unemployment rate edged upward for the third straight month, climbing to 6.5 percent in September, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported Thursday.

The state’s jobless rate had been at a recent low of 6 percent in June, but rose to 6.1 percent in July and 6.3 percent in August, before it rose again last month. The trend was anticipated by economists, who said a global economic slowdown, uncertainty about US tax policy, and other factors, such as rising gasoline prices, have contributed to a climate of uncertainty and slowed hiring.

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Nationally, the unemployment rate for September was 7.8 percent, the lowest in nearly four years.

“You don’t like to see it go up three months in a row, but year to year we’re continuing to see [job] gains,” said Andre Mayer, senior vice president for research at Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the state’s largest business group. “We aren’t doing terribly well, but we should not overreact to the rise of the unemployment rate since we are in fact creating some jobs.”

Massachusetts employers added 5,100 jobs last month, the state labor department said. The unemployment rate rose in part because more workers, including discouraged workers who had given up job searches, entered the labor force in September.

Although the economy added jobs, it did not add them quickly enough to absorb these additional workers and keep the jobless rate from rising.

Last month, the news was worse: The unemployment rate rose and employers cut jobs. The monthly statistics, however, can be volatile and are subject to frequent revisions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics revised its August findings on Thursday to show that employers shed 3,500 jobs, less than the 4,800 initially reported.

Overall, Massachusetts has added 44,600 jobs in the past year. The biggest gains last month were in the leisure and hospitality sector, which added 6,200 jobs. The professional, scientific, and business service sector, which includes technology, scientific, and consulting firms, gained 3,400 jobs over the month. Construction, one of the sectors hardest hit by the last recession, added 2,200 jobs. Over the year, employment in construction is down by 2.4 percent or 2,600 jobs.

Sectors that lost jobs included trade, transportation, and utilities, which shed 3,400 positions; information services, which lost 2,000; education and health services, which lost 1,500 jobs; and manufacturing, down 700.

Government has continued to cut jobs, losing more than 900 jobs last month and 1,800 year to date. State government posted a 1,100-job loss and federal jobs were down by 200. Local government added 400 jobs.

More than 225,000 people in Massachusetts are unemployed and looking for work.

Michael Goodman, a public policy professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, said the state faces a host of problems weighing on its growth, including slowing demand in China, one of the state’s biggest export markets, a rise in energy prices, and uncertainty surrounding tax policies because of the close presidential election. The pace of employment growth in Massachusetts has been slow, about 1 percent, he said.

Goodman said he was “cautiously optimistic” that Massachusetts would weather such problems, but noted the state is more dependent on exporting its products to other countries than most. The economic crisis in Europe, another big market for Massachusetts companies, has also weighed on the state’s economy. “The big picture is Massachusetts is hanging in there, despite all these pressures, nationally and internationally, that are weighing on our growth,” said Goodman. “We’re living in a very uncertain world.”

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