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Mass. Loses 4,500 Jobs In January; Unemployment Rate Dips To 6.8 Percent

BOSTON — The Massachusetts economy lost 4,500 jobs in January, but the state’s unemployment rate fell to 6.8 percent in the month, according to federal estimates released Thursday from the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.

The two calculations are derived from separate surveys — one of employers, the other of households — so trends can diverge in one monthly labor report. Changes in the overall labor force also affect the jobless rate.

Nationwide, January was the second straight month of disappointing job growth, leading some experts to worry about an economic slowdown and others to wonder if bad weather had skewed the figures.

In Massachusetts, the trade, transportation and utilities sector lost the most jobs in January (6,700). Three other sectors also lost jobs: government; professional, scientific and business services; and manufacturing.

Construction (2,900 jobs added) led five sectors that gained jobs in the state in January.

The Massachusetts unemployment rate dipped 0.3 percentage points, from 7.1 percent in December to 6.8 percent in January. That’s higher than the national rate of 6.6 percent.

In a conference call Thursday, Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Greg Bialecki attributed the rate’s drop to hiring, not people leaving the labor force.

“Our unemployment rate is not coming down because Massachusetts residents are getting discouraged and dropping out of the labor force in the same way they are in the country as a whole,” he said.

Thursday’s employment report also included annual revisions to earlier figures.

The revisions show that Massachusetts added 55,200 jobs in 2013, down slightly from the 55,500 figure released in late January.

Still, the 55,200 jobs the state gained last year represented the best December-December period since 2000, the labor office said.

Bialecki said in the call the gains show Massachusetts has recovered from the recession.

“Not only did we recover and get all our jobs back faster, but we’re continuing to grow,” he said. “These aren’t rebound jobs, these are new jobs.”

Massachusetts unemployment rates were also higher in 2013 than previously published, the revisions reveal. The January 2013 rate was 6.9 percent, so the jobless figure fell 0.1 percentage point over the year.

With reporting by Daniel Guzman

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