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Maryland gained almost 10,000 jobs in the private sector alone in September, the second consecutive month of an increase after five straight months of declines, according to federal labor department figures released last week.

That helped the state’s jobless rate decline for the first time since January, to 6.9 percent from 7.1 percent in August.

“It’s a good sign,” said Daraius Irani, director of the Regional Economic Studies Institute’s applied economics and human services group at Towson University. “The number of unemployed went down, and the number of employed went up. That’s always good news.”

September unemployment figures for St. Mary’s County are not yet available. In August the jobless rate in St. Mary’s was 6.2 percent.

The 9,800-job jump in September in Maryland was the largest gain for the month since 2003. The largest gain in a private industry was seen in administrative positions with 3,300 jobs added. Retailers and construction companies added 1,900 and 1,300 jobs, respectively, in September.

Local government — which showed a major increase in August with schools returning — shed 6,300 positions in September, canceling out government gains in the federal and state sectors. Hotels and restaurants were among the few private sectors to see a decline, with a 700-job loss last month.

The figures are often updated; August’s preliminary increase of 1,400 jobs was revised upward to a gain of 2,600 positions.

If federal sequestration occurs in January and substantial budget cuts kick in, the effects on Maryland will be substantial, Irani said. The federal Budget Control Act of 2011 detailed initial cost reductions of almost $1 trillion during the next decade designed to help offset debt ceiling increases of as much as $2.1 trillion.

Further cuts could push the total well above $1 trillion. A bipartisan congressional “super committee” authorized to specify where the reductions will come from failed to do so last year, and across-the-board cuts will begin Jan. 2 if Congress does not change the plan by then.

“That is something to keep an eye on,” Irani said. “It will likely have a big ripple effect in Maryland if it occurs.”

Since September 2011, the state has created 25,500 jobs, Maryland Labor Secretary Leonard Howie said in a conference call. Howie recently took over the position after being deputy secretary for operations with the state Department of Human Resources and deputy secretary for the labor department.

“Maryland continues to make progress toward recovery,” Howie said, a refrain echoed by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).

But critics noted that Maryland’s job gains in the past year have lagged behind the national average, especially since January. Maryland’s percentage job boost in the past year of 1 percent was behind the national average of 1.4 percent, and the state’s job boost since January of just 0.2 percent lagged behind the national average of 0.8 percent.

“The fact remains that Maryland is a regional laggard in loss of taxpayers, job growth and businesses,” Larry Hogan, chairman of economic watchdog group Change Maryland, said in a statement. Hogan ran for governor as a Republican in 2010 before bowing out after former Gov. Robert Ehrlich entered the race.

In considering political candidates for state and local offices in next month’s elections, voters will look at job figures, Irani said.

But they are “more excited over local referendums” this year, such as those involving casinos, he said.

Nevada had the highest unemployment rate nationally last month at 11.8 percent. North Dakota reported the lowest rate at 3 percent.