By Jessica Hall
AUGUSTA - Maine's unemployment rate inched up to 7.6 percent in July, from 7.5 percent in June, marking continued stagnation in the state's job market since the start of the year, according to the state Department of Labor.
Jobs in information services, real estate, leisure and hospitality and food services improved, but were offset by declines in construction, manufacturing, retail and finance, the state said.
The unemployment rate has risen slowly since January, when the level stood at 7.0 percent.
"This is not of great concern," said Charles Colgan, professor of public policy and management at the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine. "This is just another measure of stagnation. For nearly three years, we've had no sustained growth in payroll numbers."
"If you look at long-term trends, job creation is virtually non-existent," said Joel Johnson, an economist with the Maine Center for Economic Policy.
The unemployment rate in July was unchanged from the same period last year. The rise in the state since June mirrors an increase in the U.S. unemployment rate, which was 8.3 percent, little changed from 8.2 percent in June and down from 9.1 percent one year ago.
"Nationally there's been more job growth, but there's also been more population growth. We just don't have any population growth to speak of," said Glenn Mills, chief economist of the Maine Department of Labor's Center for Workforce Research.
The unemployment rate rise in 2012 reflects a correction from unusually low estimates in the latter part of 2011, which are expected to be revised higher, the state Department of Labor said.
"This is a correction of data. We've actually been very stable for quite some time," Mills said. "This is not an indication of deterioration in conditions."
The unemployment rate for New England overall was 7.1 percent. Rates in other states ranged from 5.0 percent in Vermont to 10.8 percent in Rhode Island.
The non-seasonally adjusted numbers showed a disparity in unemployment rates in different parts of the state. The statewide average was 7.4 percent in July, up from 7.3 percent one year ago.
By county, the rates ranged from 5.9 percent in Lincoln County to 10.1 percent in Washington County. Rates tended to be lower than the statewide average in southern and coastal counties and higher than average among northern and rim counties, the state Department of Labor said.
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