Minnesota's unemployment rate edged up a notch in March to 7.4 percent, but state officials saw encouraging signs as new claims for unemployment continued downward and work week hours ticked upward.
The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) said Thursday the increase in the jobless rate was mainly due to people coming back into the labor force as the economy recovers, but not all were able to find work. That increased the number of unemployed by 3,600.
Minnesota's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate had stood at 7.3 percent in January and February. Minnesota's March unemployment rate was still well below the national unemployment rate, which remained steady at 9.7 percent for the third consecutive month.
Minnesota lost 1,800 jobs in March. Previously, 3,400 jobs were reported lost in the state in February, but that number was revised to 1,600.
DEED Commissioner Dan McElroy said the March numbers show that economic recoveries are not smooth. But he said there were positive trends in Minnesota's employment landscape, with an increase in the labor force and the length of the average work week.
The average work week in March increased to 32.8 hours after staying steady at 32.6 hours over the previous three months. While the bump in the average work week, which had plunged to 31 hours in the recession, may not seem significant, McElroy said it means about 500,000 hours a week or 2 million hours a month, which translates into a "big increase in spending power."
The state had 29,500 new claims for unemployment in March, continuing a downward trend after peaking at almost 44,000 claims in May and June 2009.
Five of Minnesota's 11 employment sectors added jobs in March. Manufacturing and leisure and hospitality were the leaders, each adding 1,500 jobs. Manufacturing has added jobs for three consecutive months. Government, construction and financial activities also added jobs in March. The government gains apparently were from the federal government adding 2010 census jobs.
Trade, transportation and utilities, professional and business services, education and health services, other services and information saw job losses in March. Logging and mining were steady during the month.
Rochester, Duluth-Superior, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Mankato all had job losses in March compared with a year ago while the St. Cloud area held steady over the past year.
The unemployment rate in Minnesota has dropped from a year ago, when it was 8.1 percent in March 2009.
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