By STEPHEN SINGER
AP Business Writer
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ The last batch of monthly unemployment and labor force numbers before Election Day showed strong jobs growth, instantly sparking debate Monday between Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Republican challenger Tom Foley in their race to win over voters Nov. 4.
Employers in Connecticut added 11,500 jobs in September, cutting the unemployment rate to its lowest in nearly six years, the state Labor Department said. The unemployment rate fell to 6.4 percent, from 6.6 percent in August, the lowest since November 2008.
The Labor Department also revised the job loss in August, to 1,200 from 3,600 initially reported.
All of the news was good, particularly in an election year dominated by Connecticut’s slow emergence from the Great Recession.
The employment gain is the largest since April 1994, the seventh monthly nonfarm employment gain this year and a “vigorous bounce-back” from the revised decline of 1,200 jobs in August, the Department of Labor said.
Andy Condon, the agency’s research director, said some gains were expected, particularly in public education and leisure and hospitality affected by seasonal shifts. Still, he said the numbers are “very encouraging.”
But he cautioned that monthly sample-based labor statistics “can be volatile in either direction and should be looked at in context of longer trends over several months.”
Malloy reacted immediately to the jobs report, praising the strong jobs gains. Foley and others pointed out that Connecticut still lags the rest of the country in job growth.
“Today’s jobs report is another sign that we are making steady progress in improving our state’s economy,” Malloy said in a statement emailed two minutes before the Labor Department report was emailed.
Foley’s campaign criticized the pace of the jobs recovery. The state reported that Connecticut has recovered 85,300 jobs, or 71.6 percent of the 119,100 seasonally adjusted jobs lost during the March 2008 to February 2010 recession.
Foley spokesman Christopher Cooper said Connecticut has “one of the worst recovery rates in the nation.”
“Our weak recovery is the result of Dan Malloy’s failed policies and things will not improve without a change of leadership and a new direction,” he said.
Don Klepper-Smith, an economist who served former Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, said at the current pace of job growth so far, a full job recovery in Connecticut is not expected until 2016, two years after jobs recovered fully in the national economy.
However, Monday’s numbers undermined an often-repeated criticism leveled by Foley, who has singled out the loss of 3,600 jobs in August as an argument against Malloy’s policies. That number was revised downward to 1,200.