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Massachusetts unemployment rate falls to 6.3% in April

Figure lowest since October 2008 after 5th month of growth

Massachusetts continued its long slog out of the recession in April, as employers added jobs for the fifth consecutive month and the state unemployment rate fell to its lowest level in more than three years.

The jobless rate slipped from 6.5 percent in March to 6.3 percent last month, reaching its lowest level since October 2008, when the financial crisis was near its worst, the state’s Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported Thursday. Massachusetts employers added 2,500 jobs last month after increasing payrolls by 7,500 jobs in March.

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“The state has been undergoing a recovery now for over two years,’’ Northeastern University economics professor Alan Clayton-Matthews said. “It’s been at a moderate pace, and it is making an impact. It’s sort of the little choo-choo that could.’’

Massachusetts has generally rebounded from the recession faster than the nation as a whole, boosted by the state’s robust technology industry. The state unemployment rate is significantly lower than the US rate of 8.1 percent last month.

However, Massachusetts has yet to completely recover from the steep job losses it suffered during the downturn. The state lost 143,000 jobs in the recession, which began in Massachusetts in May 2008, but has so far regained just 81,500 of those jobs - including 31,000 since the beginning of this year.

“We continue to have relatively slow job creation,’’ said Andre Mayer, senior vice president for research at Associated Industries of Massachusetts, a trade group representing hundreds of state businesses. “We have a lot of people still out of work, and we aren’t yet at the point of sustained growth at a level that really puts people back to work.’’

Greg Tivnan of Holden, who was laid off from his job as a state budget analyst in early 2010, is among those still searching for full-time work. But Tivnan, who is in his 60s, said he sees signs of an improving job market.

In recent months, he has had about a dozen phone interviews with different companies, including two interviews that landed him temporary jobs as an accountant and a customer service representative.

“Some days I feel upbeat, some days I don’t,’’ he said. “I would say I see more opportunities out there. The job fairs aren’t the zoos they were when I was first laid off.’’

More than 216,000 people in Massachusetts were still unemployed last month, compared to about 155,000 before the recession began.

In addition, Mayer said, job gains have been unevenly distributed across Massachusetts, disproportionately benefiting people in the eastern end of the state, where many of the state’s high-tech and biotechnology companies are located.

Those sectors were not hit as hard in the downturn, which wreaked havoc on real estate and financial markets

“This is not a different situation than what we’ve been looking at for the last couple of years,’’ Mayer said. “We continue to add jobs where you might expect to add jobs.’’

The professional, scientific, and business services sector, which includes a variety of technology, research, and consulting firms, added 4,200 jobs last month, according to the labor department. The sector has also created nearly 20,000 jobs since last April, growing four times faster than the state’s overall job growth rate.

State officials hope the tech and biotech industries will continue to grow and have targeted state and federal funds to the industry.

This week, the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth broke ground on a $28 million “accelerator’’ facility in Fall River meant to attract biotechnology and life science companies. The state also allocated $35 million in stimulus funds to build a new exit ramp off Route 24 to provide access to the project and spur additional development.

High-tech jobs pay well and offer benefits, just the kind of jobs Massachusetts wants to attract, said Joanne Goldstein, secretary of the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.

“We’re trying to build [up] these fields in Massachusetts, and it’s working,’’ Goldstein said.

Five of the 10 private employment sectors tracked by the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development added jobs in April, though growth was more modest.

Trade, transportation, and utilities added 900 jobs. Information, another tech sector, added 600. Also adding jobs last month were leisure and hospitality, which gained 600, and financial services, which gained 300.

Construction shed 1,300 jobs last month, and manufacturing - which has remained relatively flat for most of the year - lost 1,200 jobs in April.

Personal, repair, and other services lost 400, and education and health care shed 300. Over the year, the sector added 2,200 jobs.

Education and Health Services lost 300 jobs over the month. Government employment fell by 900 jobs in April. Over the year, government has shed 3,600 positions.

The monthly employment and unemployment figures are estimates by the US Labor Department and are subject to frequent revision.

Megan Woolhouse can be reached at mwoolhouse@globe.com
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