Maine’s September unemployment rate fell to 7.6 percent, down slightly from a revised 7.7 percent in August, marking the 60th consecutive month the state had a higher share of employed population than the nation overall.

The gap between Maine’s rate and that of the U.S. has been shrinking, however.

The state Department of Labor said Maine’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was better than the U.S. rate of 7.8 percent, which had improved from 8.1 percent in August and 9.0 percent a year ago. The U.S. unemployment rate, released earlier this month, was at its lowest level since January 2009.

“Nationally the unemployment rate has been coming down because people stopped looking for work. In Maine, you still have people actively looking for work, but Maine has little job growth and no substantial population growth,” said Glenn Mills, director of economic research at the department’s Center for Workforce Research & Information.

The slight movement in Maine’s unemployment rate month-to-month should be taken with caution, economists said. The seasonally adjusted data are based on surveys of 2,000 households for people over the age of 16. That survey is supposed to reflect the unemployment trend for the 1.1 million Mainers over 16. The survey is not broad and often reflects a skewed picture of the state’s employment health, economists said.

In September, Maine job gains were seen in sectors such as education, health care, leisure and hospitality, construction and retail. Sectors such as arts, entertainment and recreation, goverment, natural resources and mining and trade saw declines.

“There’s been modest private-sector job growth offset by state and local government job declines,” Mills said.

Still, Maine’s unemployment has inched up since January, when the rate stood at 7.0 percent.

“A one-month snapshot is not particularly useful, but the fact that we’ve linked together several months in an upward direction is of some concern when the national unemployment rate is coming down,” said Joel Johnson, an economist with the Maine Center for Economic Policy.

In September, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that 53,400 people in Maine were unemployed, up 1,400 from the year-ago period. The year-ago unemployment rate was 7.4 percent.

“Maine’s unemployment rate for September at 7.6 percent remains below the U.S. rate of 7.8 percent; but this gap has closed significantly from a year ago, when the U.S. rate was 9.0 percent, compared to 7.4 percent in Maine,” said Garrett Martin, executive director of the Maine Center for Economic Policy.

For New England overall, the unemployment rate in September was 7.4 percent. Rates ranged from 5.4 percent in Vermont to 10.5 percent in Rhode Island.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated there were 595,800 nonfarm payroll jobs in Maine in September, up 5,200 from the revised August estimate.

“Once again, job growth in Maine is anemic at best. Maine continues to rank near the bottom of states in terms of job growth over the last year. While these numbers are preliminary, Maine’s job count at 595,800 nonfarm jobs is identical to what it was a year ago and highlights the need to pursue policies that will result in good jobs and a stronger economy now,” Martin said.

The statewide unemployment rate — not seasonally adjusted — was 6.7 percent in September, unchanged from a year ago. Local rates ranged from 5.6 percent in Cumberland County to 9.5 percent in Washington County. Unemployment rates tend to be lower than the statewide average in southern and coastal counties and higher than average in northern counties.

Among metropolitan areas, the unemployment rate — not seasonally adjusted — in Portland-South Portland-Biddeford was 5.6 percent; in Bangor, 6.7 percent; and Lewiston-Auburn, 6.9 percent.

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