Minnesota employers added 14,500 jobs in February, another strong month of hiring as the state has come close to recovering all the jobs it lost in the recession.
The past six months have been particularly robust for the job market, despite fears that prolonged federal budget gridlock and across-the-board spending cuts will hurt the economy, according to figures released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. Minnesota has added 50,800 jobs since the end of August, the largest half-year gain since 1984.
“The private sector has essentially regained all of the jobs lost in the recession,” said Steve Hine, labor market economist for the state.
Minnesota is outpacing national averages in a few ways. The state’s job growth rate of 2.3 percent over the past year outpaces the U.S. rate of 1.5 percent. Also, the state has now clawed back all but 1,000 of the 160,000 jobs it lost in the recession, despite the weakness of government hiring. The U.S. has regained only about two-thirds of the jobs it lost in the recession.
Minnesota's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 5.5 percent in February was unchanged, but still markedly better than the U.S. rate of 7.7 percent.
The biggest gains in Minnesota in February were in professional and business services, a broad category that includes legal services, temporary help, computer and software-related jobs, accounting, architecture and management.
The sector added 6,800 jobs on the month, and that bodes well for the larger economy since it touches all areas of business, including manufacturing, health care, construction and transportation, Hine said.
“It’s indicative of a broader strength in the economy,” he said.
Other sectors that added jobs were leisure and hospitality (up 3,200), education and health services (up 1,900), financial activities (up 1,700), construction (up 1,400), trade, transportation and utilities (up 1,300), and logging and mining (up 100). Other services held steady.
Job losses occurred in February in government (down 1,000), manufacturing (down 800) and information (down 100). 
Over the past year, trade, transportation and utilities added the most jobs, growing by 15,200. The other sectors that added jobs were education and health services (up 13,100), professional and business services (up 12,300), government (up 5,300), financial activities (up 3,600), manufacturing (up 3,400), leisure and hospitality (up 3,300), information (up 2,200), other services (up 1,900), construction (up 1,900), and logging and mining (up 300).
In the state Metropolitan Statistical Areas, job gains occurred in the past 12 months in the Minneapolis-St. Paul MSA (up 2.4 percent), Mankato MSA (up 2.2 percent), Rochester MSA (up 1.6 percent), St. Cloud MSA (up 1.5 percent) and Duluth-Superior MSA (up 1.2 percent).