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The Boston Globe

Business

Muddling through: State’s jobless rate little changed

The state’s unemployment rate remained above 7 percent for the fourth consecutive month in October as the Massachusetts expansion continued its slow advance.

The Massachusetts unemployment rate rose to 7.2 percent in October, compared with 7.1 in September and 7.2 percent in August, the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported Friday. The US unemployment rate was 7.3 percent last month.

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The state jobless rate has stayed at or above 7 percent since June, increasing by nearly a percentage point since spring. Massachusetts added 9,100 jobs in October after increasing payrolls by 9,400 positions in September, the state reported.

Those gains, however, were not enough to put a dent in unemployment, analysts said.

“We’re muddling through,” said Michael Goodman, public policy professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.“It’s not surprising the pace of our job expansion has slowed.”

The automatic federal budget cuts known as sequestration, which went into effect earlier this year, have disproportionately hurt Massachusetts’ economy, Goodman said. The state has a high concentration of industries that rely on such funding, such as defense, health care, and scientific research.

Despite the recent employment gains, Robert Nakosteen, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said a new round of job cuts could be coming. He said that some federal government contractors in Massachusetts have kept employees on the payroll with the idea that Congress would soon modify the sequestration cuts. But with no budget deal yet, and deeper cuts coming next year, they are likely to shed those jobs.

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Nakosteen said the state is also experiencing a slowdown in exports from its high-tech sector as sales to Europe have slowed due to ongoing economic struggles there. “Massachusetts is in a bind right now,” Nakosteen said. “We’re bucking so many headwinds.”

The state released employment statistics for September and October on Friday. Last month’s federal government shutdown delayed the release of September data.

The leisure and hospitality sector, which includes hotels and restaurants, led October's job gains, adding 3,200 positions. Trade, transportation, and utilities gained 2,500 jobs, and the education and health services sector added 1,900 jobs.

Construction jobs have grown steadily, adding 1,300 jobs in the month and 6,300 over the past year, a 5.5 percent increase. The financial activities sector added 600 jobs in October, and the professional, scientific, and business services sector gained only 600 jobs.

Manufacturing lost 1,400 jobs over the month. Government employers cut 200 jobs.

Megan Woolhouse can be reached at megan.woolhouse@globe.com.

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