Jobs were as scarce in Knox County during January as at any time since 1991, according to the Maine Department of Labor.

The unemployment rate in Knox County in January was 9.8 percent. This was up from 9.3 percent in January 2009. The Knox County rate was higher than the statewide rate of 9.3 percent.

The last time the unemployment rate was this high in Knox County was in February 1991 when the rate reached 9.9 percent. February is generally the month each year with the highest rates. February rates are expected to be released in a few weeks.

The last time a January unemployment rate for Knox County was this high was in 1983 when it reached 11 percent.

According to the state labor department, there were 18,110 people working in Knox County in January 2010. There were also 1,970 people listed as unemployed.

“In the early stages of economic recovery and return to job growth, it is common for the unemployment rate to rise as individuals assess their job prospects more positively and re-enter the labor force,” Maine Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman said in a news release.

The labor department reported that the number of nonfarm jobs statewide since a year ago was down 15,800. Nearly three-quarters of net job losses were in the construction, manufacturing and retail trade sectors. Education and health services and leisure and hospitality were the only sectors with net job growth in the last 12 months, the state reported.

Statewide unemployment rates in January ranged from 7.3 percent in Cumberland County to 13.4 percent in Washington County.

Lincoln County’s rate was 9.9 percent, up from 9 percent a year ago. Waldo County’s rate was 11.3 percent, up from 9.9 percent a year ago.