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Fewer jobs created last year in Mass., new data show

People waited in line at an employment fair held in Boston last October.

Kayana Szymczak for The Boston Globe

People waited in line at an employment fair held in Boston last October.

The Massachusetts recovery advanced at a far slower pace last year than first thought, with the economy creating just a fraction of the number of jobs initially reported, according to revised data released Thursday by the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.

Employment grew by  just over 9,000 jobs in 2011, compared with initial estimates of nearly 41,000, according to the new data.

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The US Department of Labor revises state employment data annually based on additional information that becomes available over the course of the year. The data could be further revised next year.

State Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Joanne F. Goldstein said that she believes the federal revisions underestimated the job growth in the second half of 2011, and the state added more than 9,000 jobs over the course of last year.

She pointed to a steadily declining unemployment rate,  which fell to 6.9 percent in December from 7.8 percent in January 2011. (Unemployment statistics are estimated from a separate survey of households, while job data comes from a survey of employers.)

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The state also reported Thursday that the Massachusetts unemployment rate held steady in January at 6.9 percent, compared to 8.3 percent nationally. Massachusetts employers in January added 6,600 jobs, after increasing payrolls by 400 jobs in December.

“What’s going on, we think, is still good news for the Massachusetts economy. The unemployment rate is still significantly below the national average,” Goldstein said. “The job growth in the professional, business, and technical sector is still strong, and we think that’s critical since that [sector] is really Massachusetts’ calling card.”

Professional, scientific, and business services, which includes a variety of technology, consulting and research firms, led January’s job gains with 3,500 jobs added over the month.

Trade, transportation, and utilities, meanwhile, added 1,800 jobs, and leisure and hospitality jobs increased by 1,700. The construction and other services sectors each gained 1,000 jobs.

Those additions were offset by the loss of 1,600 education and health services jobs, and 1,300 government jobs, as well as smaller losses in other sectors.

On Thursday, several local economists expressed surprise at the revisions.

They said job growth in Massachusetts may not have been as strong as first estimated, but they doubted it was as weak as the revised data shows.

Northeastern University economics professor Alan Clayton-Matthews said he also believes that the US Labor Department underestimated job growth in the second half of the year in its revisions.

“We’re left with a history of 2011, which I think is still incorrect,” he said.

Erin Ailworth can be reached at eailworth@globe.com.
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