A rising tide of jobs that lifted spirits in the state last spring appears to have lost momentum, economists said after a statewide report Thursday showed only 2,000 positions created in September — half of them from southeastern Connecticut.
Peter Gioia, an economist and vice president of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said the employment report released by the state Department of Labor indicated a weak economic recovery.
"It's really a mixed report — more positive than what we've seen but still not great," Gioia said in a podcast made available to the media.
Despite September's job gains of 1,000 in the Norwich-New London area, which includes Westerly, the local employment picture has been less than rosy over the past year, according to the latest report.
The region is the only metropolitan area in Connecticut to experience job losses over the past year, having seen 2,000 positions exit since last September, many related to a downsizing at Pfizer Inc. that has resulted in 1,100 layoffs since February of last year.
The monthly statistics, which showed Connecticut's unemployment rate dipping a tenth of a point to 8.9 percent, follows a disappointing jobs report in August, when the jobless rate spiked by an unprecedented half a percent and companies reduced their work forces by a surprising 6,800 — a number that had been questioned by both Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and some economists even before the latest report revised the losses upward to an even gloomier 7,500.
Malloy responded to the September jobs report with renewed skepticism about what he saw as "conflicting data."
"The data is being questioned in several states, by members of both parties," Malloy said in a statement. "With the release of the numbers today, the only thing that's any clearer is how conflicting the data continues to be."
Andy Condon, director of the Labor Department's Office of Research, also cited "statistical uncertainty" and said revisions to the numbers later this year could add 9,000 to 10,000 jobs that had not previously been counted.
Still, the labor report noted that September's job numbers represented a steadying of the employment picture in Connecticut. After a reported gain of 5,100 jobs in July and then the big losses in August, September's 2,000 gain was more typical of recent slow and steady employment bumps, Condon said.
"An increase in jobs and a drop in the number of unemployed were positives for this month," he said.
Connecticut as a whole has gained only 1,900 jobs over the past year, led by the Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk area, which saw increased employment of 5,200 over the period. Since the two-year Great Recession ended in February 2010, the state has regained 31,400 of its employment peak, or only about a quarter of the 117,500 jobs lost in that period, the Labor Department said.
Post-recession job gains in Connecticut are only half the numbers seen during other economic recoveries, economists have said.
The national employment rebound has been nearly twice as robust as Connecticut's, according to Labor Department statistics, while the state's unemployment rate remains mired more than a point above the current national rate of 7.8 percent.
"We've learned over the past few months that the economic crash of 2008 was worse than anyone realized, which is why it's taking us longer to climb out of the hole than any of us would like," Malloy said.
He added that state investments in areas such as bioscience, digital media and finance will put Connecticut in a better position over the longer term "once the recovery really picks up steam."
But Don Klepper-Smith, who headed the Governor's Council of Economic Advisors under the previous Rell administration, said Thursday in a note to clients that the state economy has been slowing in recent months and is likely to remain sluggish through next year.
Klepper-Smith, chief economist and director of research for DataCore Partners LLC in New Haven, said the latest report has caused him to revise job projections down significantly through the end of next year. His new estimates show gains of only 5,000 jobs this year and 3,000 next year — more than half of previous projections.
"A loss of job momentum is apparent and unlikely to change dramatically," Klepper-Smith said.