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Southeastern Connecticut added 1,300 jobs in May, accounting for all but 100 of the labor increases statewide, according to a report released Thursday by the state Department of Labor.
The report noted that the Norwich-New London market, which includes Westerly, traditionally sees a job bump during the tourism season, which this year will feature OpSail 2012, a tall ships event expected to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors to southeastern Connecticut in early July.
Statewide job growth between April and May was 1,400 but that was at a time when 5,270 more people were entering the labor force. The result was that the state's unemployment rate in May increased a tenth of a percent, to 7.8 percent.
"Given the fact that more people are trying to enter the workforce because they're more optimistic they can actually find a job, the change in the unemployment rate is not a surprise," Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said in a statement released Thursday. "We saw an example of that increase in job seekers just yesterday in Norwich."
Malloy referred to the estimated 1,000 or more people who poured into the Norwich Holiday Inn for a job fair Wednesday sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut.
"Growth in the civilian labor force, if it continues, is a sign that more people are actively searching for work and is significant since the labor force had declined for months in a row," said Andy Condon, director of the Labor Department's Office of Research, in a statement on the jobs situation.
Throughout the year, Connecticut has added 6,200 jobs, but the gains have been inconsistent from month to month. Revised figures showed April job losses hit 4,700, more than had previously been reported, blamed partly on unusual hiring activity during the early months of the year, when warm weather spurred job creation in some fields.
"Connecticut's large employment fluctuations experienced since the beginning of the year appear to be driven by unusual seasonal patterns rather than (by) purely economic forces," the Labor Department report said.
Employment last month in education and health services, government, construction and mining, manufacturing, leisure and hospitality and financial activities was up. Professional and business services, other services and trade, transportation and utilities all declined.
Connecticut has recovered nearly 35,000 jobs out of 117,500 lost during the recession, according to the report.
"It's going to be easy for critics to say that what we're doing in our state isn't working," Malloy said. "But the facts tell a different story: The most recent report by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis showed Connecticut's economy grew faster than 41 other states in 2011. So while it's clear we have a lot more work to do, it's also clear we're in the process of turning this thing around."
Despite the upbeat labor report for the Norwich-New London area, the region continues to lag the rest of the state in job creation, having lost 2,600 jobs since last May, the report noted. But last month only the Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk region turned in better job numbers, posting an increase of 2,500.
The Waterbury area gained 800 jobs and New Haven saw 100 new openings filled, but the Hartford area lost 1,400 positions. Hartford still has accounted for more job increases so far this year than any other area of the state, with 3,400 positions added.