The good news on the Minnesota job front is that employment opportunities will continue to grow in 2011. But economists temper that positive outlook by projecting that employers most likely won't quicken their pace of hiring in the coming year.

"It's getting better - we've added 30,000 jobs last year and we added another 30,000 this year. But we lost 160,000 total, so we're not even halfway back to what we've lost," says David Senf, labor market analyst for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. "We're slowly recovering, but it's not all rosy and it's a long road."

From the third quarter of 2009 to the third quarter of this year, state job growth increased 1.1 percent. It's the largest annual gain since the first half of 2006, Senf says, and it is more than five times stronger than the nation's 0.2 percent increase in jobs. This boost in employment helped ward off fears of a double-dip recession.

Though the economy is improving and job opportunities have expanded, growth isn't ramping up fast enough to push Minnesota's unemployment rate much below its current 7.1 percent. That's because people that previously stopped looking for positions have started looking anew as the jobs outlook improved, says Senf.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis has similar projections for job growth in Minnesota next year, based on its preliminary survey results. In 2011, Minnesota will see a 2 percent increase as employers expand by about 55,000 jobs, says regional economist Toby Madden. That is an improvement over 2010 when jobs increased 1.6 percent from the addition of 42,100 jobs.

"It's not a bad growth rate," says Madden. "However, after a major recession you would hope that it would grow faster to catch up on all the jobs that were lost during the recession."

The housing market, which normally can be counted on to power the country out of a recession, is still a drag on employment and the economy. That spells continued job losses for the construction industry - one of the few sectors that will not be hiring next year, according to the state's industry employment forecast for 2011. Another area that also will shed jobs is the public sector as federal, state and local governments make cuts to respond to shrinking budgets.

More positively, almost every sector will show job increases in 2011. The strongest growth will come from administrative and support services; health care and social assistance; food service and drinking places; manufacturing; and professional, scientific and technical services, says Senf.

Occupations that will add the most jobs next year include personal and home care aides, food preparers and servers, home health aides, registered nurses, customer service representatives, general office clerks, assemblers and retail salespeople.

"It looks like next year will be a bit more positive than this year," says Madden. And it's hard to be mad at that.