Connecticut’s unemployment rate inched higher last month, climbing by one-tenth of 1 percent to 7.8 percent, the state Department of Labor reported Thursday.

But while the rate climbed marginally, state officials said that with an extra 5,270 residents seeking work last month, the expanding labor force could be a positive sign.

“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. “As I’ve said all along, changing an economy that failed to grow jobs in a meaningful way for a generation won’t happen overnight. But I am committed to seeing this through.”

The expanding labor force could show optimism in the economy, as residents sense better employment prospects, agreed Andy Condon, director of the Labor Department’s Office of Research. “A resumption of more typical seasonal patterns now will hopefully give us a clearer picture going forward on job growth and unemployment in the state,” he said. “Growth in the civilian labor force, if it continues, is a sign that more people are actively searching for work.”

This is particularly significant, Condon added, since the labor force — the number of residents either working or unemployed but seeking work, had declined for four consecutive months before May.

Over the calendar year so far, the state has added nearly 6,200 jobs, a modest bump of 0.4 percent.

Labor officials added that the growth to date has been influenced not just by economic forces, but also by the unusually warm winter and spring. Economists have said the warm conditions particularly helped to jump-start both the construction and retail sectors of the job market.

The education and health care services sectors of the market saw the largest growth last month, each adding 800 new jobs, while construction and mining together added 700 positions.

The financial services sector, a crucial source of revenue for the state budget, had a small increase of 100 jobs.

The largest declines came in professional, scientific and technical services, down 900 positions, and administrative and waste management, down 700 jobs. Trade, transportation and utilities combined to post a decline of 500 positions.

Four of the state’s six labor market areas saw job growth in May. The Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk area led the state, generating 2,500 jobs. The Norwich-New London, Waterbury and New Haven markets also experienced growth, while Danbury was unchanged.

The only major labor market area that lost jobs in May was the Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford region, which declined by 1,400 positions.

According to the Labor Department, Connecticut now has recovered 34,900, or just under 30 percent of the 117,500 jobs lost during the last recession, which stretched from March 2008 to February 2010.

The governor added, “It’s going to be easy for critics to say that what we’re doing in our state isn’t working. But the facts tell a different story.”

Malloy noted that the most recent report by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis showed Connecticut’s economy grew faster than that of 41 other states in 2011. “So while it’s clear we have a lot more work to do,” he said, “it’s also clear we’re in the process of turning this thing around.”

In a related matter, Malloy announced Thursday that five more Connecticut small businesses — in East Hampton, East Hartford, Hartford, New Haven and Stamford — have qualified for assistance through the state’s Small Business Express Program. The legislature created this program in special session last fall to provide up to $100 million in grants and low-interest loans to spur job growth among small companies.

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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