Job growth remains sluggish in Minnesota, and economists are hoping the spring thaw will fuel a rebound.
Minnesota employers shed a net 100 jobs in February, pushing the jobless rate up a notch to 4.8 percent, according to state numbers released Thursday. Most of weakness was in the government sector, which shed 1,000 jobs last month. Private employers added a net 900 jobs.
Lumbering through a winter for the history books, the state is now growing jobs at a modest 1.6 percent clip. That's slightly faster than the 1.5 percent national rate, but it's a slowdown from the last few months of 2013 when Minnesota added jobs at a 1.9 percent rate. Overall, the state has been growing jobs at a fairly consistent 1.6 percent rate for a few years.
Steve Hine, labor market research director at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, called the February numbers disappointing but not alarming. It's a not-so-good couple of innings, "but the game isn't lost yet," Hine said.
"We are certainly seeing a slow spot," he said.
Many of the government job losses came from local government, which shed 2,600 jobs, Hine said.
Last month's gains were in education and health (up 1,300), professional and business services (up 1,300), leisure and hospitality (up 900), manufacturing (up 300), construction (up 300) and mining and logging (up 100).
Losses were in information (down 1,000), government (down 1,000), trade, transportation and utilities (down 1,000), financial activities (down 800) and other services (down 500).
There was a noteworthy jump in Minnesotans participating in the labor force. That rate has climbed 0.2 percent for two months in a row now to reach 70.5 percent. That puts the state very close to having a record 3 million people on payrolls.
"It may well be a sign that perceptions are that the economy is improving," Hine said.
It's too early to draw conclusions, he said, because the increasing number of baby boomers hitting retirement will probably press down on the labor force participation rate in the future.