Minnesota's economy added 9,500 jobs in December and the unemployment rate held steady at 4.6 percent, according to figures the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development released Thursday.
In the final quarter of last year, Minnesota's employers added more than 21,000 jobs. The strong December job gains stand in contrast to a disappointing national number of 74,000 for the month.
The state's jobless rate is more than two percentage points below the national rate of 6.7 percent.
The November numbers were revised upward by 1,700 jobs.
Steve Hine, the state's chief labor market analyst, said the economic improvements are helping to reduce the number of Minnesotans who are out of work a half a year or more. Still, Hine said, their ranks are significant.
"There are still nearly 40,000 individuals that have been unemployed for half a year or more," Hine said. "But that's roughly half what it was in the middle of 2011, when it was over 75,000 individuals."
For the year, Minnesota's employers added a net total of 45,900 jobs. That represents a growth rate of 1.7 percent compared with a national rate of 1.6 percent.
"December's employment numbers closed out a strong year for the Minnesota labor market," DEED Commissioner Katie Clark Sieben said. "Eleven out of 12 major industrial sectors gained jobs last year, and leading indicators point to continued growth in 2014."
With strong retail hiring in December, the trade, transportation and utilities sector posted the biggest job gains with 4,600 new positions.
"Much of that strength did come from the department stores component, which added more jobs during this time of year than we've seen since 2005," Hine said.
Other sectors posting employment growth include:
Government (+ 2,600)
Manufacturing (+ 1,700)
Education and health services (+ 1,200)
Professional and business services (+ 1,000)
Construction (+ 400)
Logging and mining (+ 100)
Three sectors reduced employment in December:
Leisure and hospitality (- 800)
Other services (- 700)
Financial activities (- 500)
Information (- 100)
But the big job gains in December could be followed by job losses in January. On Wednesday, Target announced it would lay off nearly 500 workers and not fill 700 open positions.
Many retailers boosted sales by slashing prices in December, which cut into profits.
The state will not release employment figures for January until March.