Economists are expecting a Thursday labor report will show Connecticut's job market started spring off with solid gains after a winter season that swelled the ranks of the unemployed.

"I'd be bitterly disappointed if we don't see 2,500 jobs plus," said Peter Gioia, a vice president and economist with the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. "We're due for an uptick."

Gioia said the national gains in employment, while not spectacular, have been spread across almost all private sectors. But Connecticut hasn't kept pace and even showed a loss in employment in March.

Don Klepper-Smith, chief economist of New Haven-based DataCore Partners, said given the decent national report earlier this month, he expects Connecticut added between 1,800 to 2,500 jobs in April. The U.S. Labor Department reported on May 6 the nation added 244,000 jobs in April, while the unemployment rate edged up to 9 percent.

Other economists are also expecting the state to show a gain in April, as Connecticut's economy generally follows the national trend.

But the state is coming off a difficult winter that carried not just the cold weather into March but also a dismal job market.

In a report published this week on the Connecticut Department of Labor's website, the number of unemployed in Connecticut in the first quarter of 2011 increased by more than 4,000 compared with the same period a year ago. The report is part of the department's quarterly Affirmative Action Plan, in which it surveys people using the services of the CT Works Centers. These centers provide employment training and other aid to people looking for jobs.

The report said there was a 1 percent decline in the number of unemployed factory workers during the first three months of this year, while there was a 3 percent increase in the number of service workers looking for employment.

"One of the problems is we're not absorbing those numbers like we have in the past," said Klepper-Smith.

There's been a structural shift in the economy, according to Klepper-Smith, in which businesses continue to operate with fewer workers at a time when economic demand has been pared by slow growth in disposable income and other financial impediments.

The labor force actually declined in the first quarter of this year from the first quarter of 2010 and the unemployment rate increased, according to the Affirmative Action report. Minorities in the Bridgeport-Stamford market had the highest unemployment rate, making up 61 percent of the jobless in lower Fairfield County. That's up from 57.7 percent in the first quarter of 2010.

State Labor Department research analyst John Toomey said minority unemployment in the Stamford-Bridgeport market has been above 50 percent since 2007.

In the first quarter of this year, 10,768 people who were unemployed in the state said they had lost office and administrative jobs. That's down from 13,379, that reported losing office jobs in the first quarter of 2010. All five of the hardest hit sectors -- factory, construction, sales and management -- reported fewer job losses compared with a year ago. But the unemployment rate remained at 9.3 percent in the state, the same as a year ago, as more people left the work force even while hiring rose in the Danbury area.