MN Adds 7,900 Jobs as Unemployment Falls Again

Minnesota's unemployment rate dropped another 0.2 percent in December to reach 5.7 percent, as the state added 7,900 jobs.

Minnesota's unemployment rate continued its steady decline in December, dropping 0.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted 5.7 percent, according to data released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).

The December drop follows a series of recent declines: Minnesota's jobless rate was 5.9 percent in November and 6.4 percent in October.

In fact, the state unemployment rate has fallen 1.5 percent since August-representing the largest decrease over any four-month period dating to 1976, DEED said. And Minnesota remains well below the national unemployment rate of 8.5 percent.

DEED Commissioner Mark Phillips said in a statement that December marked the lowest jobless rate since September 2008. “The labor market is recovering at a slow but steady pace,” he said.

In other positive news, the state added 7,900 jobs during the month-marking a departure from state data released during the past several months, which showed a decline in jobs, despite a dropping unemployment rate. State officials have attributed that discrepancy in large part to the fact that monthly job gains data is derived from a survey of employers, while the unemployment rate comes from a sample of households.

But in a Thursday conference call, Labor Market Information Office Director Steve Hine seemed cautious about the strength of the recovery, saying that describing the last four months of growth as “the strongest we've ever had” is likely “an overstatement of how well we're doing.”

One reason is that, while “the lion's share” of the change in the jobless rate can be attributed to higher employment, the decline is also influenced by a diminished rate of labor force participation. And while many signs “suggest continued strength,” there is still a “high level of caution in business hiring,” Hine said.

For the full year of 2011, Minnesota gained 25,300 jobs, representing a 1 percent growth rate-which lags the national growth rate of 1.3 percent.

Still, other positive signs reinforce the idea that the economy is warming up: There was a minor gain in the number of hours worked per week and an improved ratio of job-seekers to job-openings in December, Hine said.

And initial claims for unemployment benefits in the state followed a national trend and fell to 23,855 during December-the lowest number since May 2008. But Hine said he would “like to see the other side of the coin-a little more hiring rather than just less firing.”

During December, professional and business services led all sectors with the addition of 3,200 jobs, followed by government (up 2,700); education and health care (up 1,900); manufacturing (up 1,700); trade, transportation, and utilities (up 1,200); financial activities (up 400); and information (up 100).

The growth in the manufacturing sector followed three consecutive months of decline. Hine pointed out that there were significant gains in machinery manufacturing and fabricated metals-major drivers of the state's exports.

Job losses occurred during the month in construction (down 1,700), leisure and hospitality (down 1,100), other services (down 400), and logging and mining (down 100).