PORTLAND – The 6,000 jobs that state economists projected would be added to Maine’s economy this year never materialized. Instead, job growth has stalled as modest gains in the health care and education sectors have failed to make up for ongoing losses in construction and manufacturing, according to an analysis by The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

It has left many residents frustrated in their attempts to find a job. Even those who find one have often spent months or more looking.

“Because of the economy and all the bad news, you think there’s no hope. I had friends say, ‘I don’t know why you are even trying. It’s such a bad economy,’ ” said Catherine Lajoie of Lyman, who spent a year searching before being hired last month as a pharmacist at Maine Medical Center.

State economists say Maine’s job picture, flat four years after the start of the economic decline in late 2007, shows no signs of near-term recovery.

“There has been real flatness,” said Glenn Mills, director of economic research for Maine’s Center for Workforce Research and Information. “There was an expectation to come out of this (but) there has been not a lot of job growth.”

Since the recession, Maine has lost 22,300 jobs, according to Maine Department of Labor figures. Just last week, Lowe’s abruptly announced the closing of stores in Biddeford and Ellsworth, leaving almost 200 people unemployed. This summer, Borders shuttered three Maine stores, including one at the Maine Mall in South Portland.

“There are companies that want to hire and could hire, but won’t. And you have companies that are laying off because they can’t survive the economy. I don’t see anything changing in the next 12 months,” said David Ciullo, president of Career Management Associates, a job placement, recruiting and consulting firm in Portland.

In February, economists in Maine predicted the state would add roughly 6,000 jobs in the latter half of 2011. But Mills said the nonfarm job numbers have remained flat at about 597,900 since September 2010, and conditions aren’t likely to improve soon.

“It’s unusual (to have) such a deep (economic) downturn, and then to (reach) a bottom without a rise, both here and nationally,” he said. “Expectations for the near-term future are continually getting lower.”

Job creation is clearly a top priority for state and national leaders.

Gov. Paul LePage held the first of three job creation workshops last week, meeting with about 80 business executives to discuss ways to create a business-friendly environment and lure jobs to Maine. In Washington, President Obama’s $447 billion jobs bill has dominated the airwaves. On Friday, Democrats in the Senate were trying to pass pieces of it after the package failed in the Senate last week.

“We cannot afford to lose any jobs,” LePage told the business leaders gathered at the workshop last week in South Portland. “We need to create jobs, and better jobs. That’s what we’re here for today. You need to tell us where we need to focus. By the first of the year, I would like to see this economy a lot more vibrant, a lot more excited.”

State employment data show some industries continue to hire, some at a rapid pace.

For instance, from the start of the recession in December 2007 to September 2011, the health care industry added roughly 5,100 jobs, a 3.6 percent increase. Educational services grew by 8.2 percent, adding 1,600 jobs, according to state data. Other industries such as leisure and hospitality, and professional and business services also added jobs.

Experts say jobs in highest demand in Maine include IT workers, such as coders and software engineers, and medical workers such as nurses and medical technicians.

In the Portland area, electronic gift card company CashStar hired 38 employees in the past 12 months and plans to add up to 40 more in the next year, said spokesperson Pauline Louie. In downtown Portland, a new Renys opened in the former L.L. Bean space and several new bank offices have opened.

But gains in growing industries aren’t enough to offset heavy job losses in other sectors.

The manufacturing industry, for instance, lost 9,300 jobs in the past four years — 15.6 percent — and employment in the construction industry declined by 6,600 jobs, or 21.5 percent.

Wholesaling firms and transportation and utility companies also lost jobs since December 2007, as did the government sector.

And retail stores cut 3,200 jobs during the period, down 3.7 percent.

Economists predict that the current employment trends will become more pronounced in the next several years.

According to a state jobs forecast that looks ahead to 2018, industries such as health care, science and technology, professional services and food service are expected to add the most jobs in Maine. Jobs in retail, state and federal government, construction, real estate and transportation are also expected to increase.

But the production and manufacturing industries are expected to shed thousands of jobs in coming years. Other sectors expected to decline include publishing, telecommunications, local government and food manufacturing.

“I think most of those production jobs aren’t coming back,” Mills said. “Manufacturing has been in a long-term pattern of decline.”

He added that workers who live in less-populated areas of the state may have the hardest time finding new employment.

“The strongest industries have been health care and professional services, and are concentrated in (larger) communities,” said Mills. “The manufacturing and other industries that have been hit hardest tend to be concentrated in rural, outlying industries.”

Staff Writer Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

[email protected]