The state's jobs agency is calling thousands of out-of-work Minnesotans every week as it looks to help workers with their job search and point them to other available openings.

Steve Grove, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), emphasized that effort as new data was released Thursday showing that the state's jobs recovery slowed in April. The state gained 11,300 jobs last month, the fewest in any month so far this year.

Minnesota added almost double that amount in March, 20,400 jobs, a number which was slightly revised downward. It gained 12,400 jobs in February and 51,600 jobs in January.

The slowdown came even as many businesses are ramping up hiring, and in some cases are having difficulty filling positions, and as more people get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

"It's kind of a weird moment in our economy," Grove told reporters. "We're in a moment of transition, moving really from a pandemic economy to a new economy, and that's going to take some time to happen. There's going to be some friction along the way in this recovery. Even if everyone got vaccinated today, things wouldn't just snap back into place instantly."

He added that more Minnesotans are returning to work and pointed out that about 10,000 fewer people have been requesting unemployment benefits every week. But he said there continues to be some uncertainty for both businesses and workers.

"There's a lot of factors at play here," Grove said. "There's safety in the workplace. There's child care considerations. There's trying to make sure the job you get is one that pays you a family-sustaining wage."

About 244,000 Minnesotans are still receiving unemployment benefits, which is down more than half since the early months of the pandemic. As of April, the state has now recovered about 57% of the 416,000 jobs it lost last spring.

The U.S. as a whole also did not see as many jobs return in April as economists had expected: 266,000 compared with 770,000 jobs in March.

The pace of the jobs recovery has turned into a political battle. Many Republicans and some business owners say that the extension of unemployment benefits along with an additional $300-a-week payment are keeping people from returning to the workforce. About 22 Republican-led states have decided to start cutting off those supplemental federal payments in June.

Democrats tend to argue that pulling back those benefits now will slow the rebound of the broader economy and point to other factors depressing the labor market. They also note that many people are returning to work as the economy heals, as evidenced by declining unemployment claims and higher job numbers.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the number of Americans who filed new unemployment claims fell last week to 444,000, a drop of 34,000 from the week before and a new pandemic low.

After the disappointing April jobs report, the White House said last week it would direct the Labor Department to reinstate work-search requirements in order for workers to continue receiving unemployment benefits.

DEED officials say Minnesota never turned off that work-search requirement during the pandemic as some other states did. When they request benefits every week, unemployed Minnesotans have to check a box indicating they are available and looking for work, said Blake Chaffee, a deputy commissioner at DEED.

Some states require job seekers to make a certain number of contacts with employers every week. Minnesota does not.

Since February, DEED has asked about 35,000 Minnesotans receiving unemployment benefits to fill out a work search plan and has set up one-on-one phone appointments with them to help them in their job search. It has already completed more than 20,000 of those conversations, each of which may last about half an hour.

DEED has focused this outreach first on workers coming from hard-hit industries such as food service and retail, Chaffee said. The goal is to help them structure their work search and to make them aware of other job opportunities and training that may be available.

Some of those workers have told DEED they are still talking to their previous employers and hope to return to work for them.

"We have some folks that we're talking to that are maybe interested in a career and occupation change," he said. "And we're talking to some folks who may have some barriers. Maybe they haven't looked for a job in a long, long time."

Minnesota's unemployment rate ticked down slightly in April to 4.1%, down from 4.2% the month before. The decline was mostly due to people getting jobs. By comparison, the U.S. unemployment rate rose slightly to 6.1% last month.

In April, the state saw the biggest job gains in professional and business services, which added 4,800 jobs. That was followed by government with 3,200 jobs, leisure and hospitality with 3,100 jobs, trade and transportation with 2,500 jobs, and construction with 1,100 jobs.

Some sectors lost ground last month, though, such as education and health services, which declined by 3,000 jobs and financial activities, which was down 1,200 jobs.

Construction is the first industry where Minnesota has gained back all the jobs it lost and is now showing some growth compared with prepandemic levels, state officials said.

Most other industries have seen some level of recovery. But a couple of sectors — logging and mining, as well as information — have continued to see job losses since the beginning of the pandemic.