SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah's unemployment rate held steady at 6 percent in July for the fourth month in a row, bucking a nationwide trend that saw jobless rates in 44 states inch upward, officials said Friday.

The Utah job count was up 2 percent last month compared with the same month last year, after the state added 24,500 jobs, the state Department of Workforce Services said.

The figure marked a slowdown from June's 2.6 percent year-over-year job growth, although officials say July 2011 was a strong month for jobs and those numbers were tough to beat.

The professional and business services sector led the growth charge by adding 7,300 jobs in the past 12 months. Construction, a notoriously volatile sector, was down 900 positions last month compared with a year ago.

State officials attribute the drop to the completion of several large infrastructure projects around Utah.

In all, about 81,700 people were unemployed in July, the state said, bringing Utah's jobless rate several points below the national mark of 8.3 percent.

Weak hiring was behind a poor national unemployment report Friday. More states saw the monthly jobless rate climb in July than in any time in more than three years. Two states watched the jobless rate fall, while four — including Utah — didn't see a change.

Unemployment rose in nine states that are considered battlegrounds in the presidential election. That could pose a threat to President Obama's re-election campaign with less than three months until voters go to the polls.