Minnesota's unemployment rate has dropped slightly and employers added 2,000 jobs last month, signaling that the state's economy is improving, officials said Thursday. The state's unemployment rate in November was 7.4 percent, compared to 7.6 percent in October. The national rate was 10 percent.
Dan McElroy, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, said the new seasonally adjusted numbers give reason for optimism, but he said the state's economic recovery is still in its early stages.
"This recession does not appear over," McElroy said. "There are probably six or seven people looking for each vacancy."
Trade, transportation and utilities added the most jobs of any sector -- 2,600 -- with most of the boost coming from the retail sector. Other gains were in professional business services, construction, manufacturing, financial activities and logging and mining.
The state lost 2,400 government jobs in November, and other job losses occurred in education and health services, information, other services and leisure and hospitality.
Officials also highlighted new data showing that the average hours worked by Minnesota employees has increased from 32.2 hours in September to 33.1 in November. McElroy said it might not sound like a lot but that it adds up to some 2.5 million more hours per week.
"It makes a big difference in the economy," McElroy said, adding that workers who are being paid for more hours are more likely to go out and spend some of that money.
Also Thursday, officials revised the number of jobs the state added in October from 2,200 to 5,000.
McElroy said state officials will continue to look closely at the state's job gains as a sign of economic recovery. If more jobs are added in December, it would be an upward trend.
"We'll be hoping to put together a third month in a row with some job gains," he said. "If the unemployment rate goes up because there are more people looking for work, that's not a bad thing."
Overall, Tom Stinson, the state economist, was pleased by the November figures. He took special note of the fact that the workers clocked more hours in November.
"The way we get out of this, the way we get to the point where we're adding significant amount of jobs each month is the first thing that has to happen is that employers make fuller use of their existing workforce. Getting more hours worked that's always good news, that's a good sign that we're started on the path up," Stinson said.
Temp hiring also ramped up in November, another potential sign that permanent hires could be coming.
And for some people, that means one important thing: more cookies.
"When you get a job, you bring cookies, and you tell the story about how this happened for you, so that others can learn from the experience," said
That's Pastor Rod Anderson of St. Andrew's Lutheran Church in Eden Prairie, which has been running ajob networking group for a couple decades.
Anderson says last month, a burst of job seekers started to find jobs and came to give their "cookie talks," and the cookie talks have continued.
At a meeting on Wednesday, Lucia Reach stood before the group of 60 participants and shared her success story. Several packages of chocolate chip cookies lay nearby.
"I shouldn't tell you how long I've been out. I was out of work for 21 months. It's a long time," said Reach. "I learned a lot about perseverance and endurance during that time. And that's definitely good job skills."
Reach got work doing customer relations with an insurance company and said the key to her hunt was looking online-- and staying busy. She started an MBA while unemployed.
Her education level might have helped her climb out of unemployment.
Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that jobless rates among workers who only have a high school diploma are twice as high as those of workers with a college degree or more.
But the jobless rate is still elevated for all groups, and DEED Commissioner Dan McElroy acknowledged that the road to recovery is going to be tough.
"If you go to one of our workforce centers and ask people who are looking for work, this recession is not over," said McElroy.
More help could be coming. Congress passed a bill Wednesday that would extend unemployment benefits and health care subsidies for the jobless. The Senate has yet to act on such a measure.