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Mass. regains all jobs lost in recession, data show

Massachusetts has regained all the jobs lost in the last recession after a strong and steady recovery that has progressed faster than the nation as whole.

The state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported Thursday that employment in Massachusetts reached 3.3 million jobs, 14,000 more than it had in April 2008, when employment peaked before the recession.

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“That is a significant event,” said Northeastern University economist Alan Clayton-Matthews. “Job growth has been strong and the economy has been growing.”

The state topped the pre-recession peak after employers added nearly 19,000 jobs in January and another 500 in February, Labor and Workforce Development reported. The state unemployment rate fell to 6.5 percent last month from 6.7 percent in January.

Massachusetts has recovered from the last recession better than the nation, which still has 3 million fewer jobs than it had when the national downturn began in December 2007 and an unemployment rate of 7.7 percent. But the state’s employment remains 66,500 jobs below the all-time high reached in February 2001 as the dot-com bubble of that era burst.

The recession that began in 2001 was much deeper in Massachusetts than the most recent downturn, and the state has yet to fully recover from it. The state lost 207,000 jobs between 2001 and 2003, compared to 136,000 jobs shed in the recession that began here in 2007.

Clayton-Matthews said if the state continues on its current job creation trajectory, he expects the state will surpass the 2001 record by November.

The economic recovery has strengthened after political leaders in Washington ended long-standing policy debates and as the global economic outlook improved. The U.S. added a better-than-expected 236,000 jobs last month and Dow Jones industrial average soared to a record high.

Massachusetts weathered the recession better than nation as whole because of its strong technology sector. The state, which has relatively small construction sector, was not as hard hit by the housing bust as many other parts of the country.

“Despite all the fits and starts, ups and downs, we [in Massachusetts] have over time created a significant number of jobs and brought ourselves most of the way if not all of the way back out of the recession in terms of employment,” said Andre Mayer, senior vice president for research at Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the state’s largest employers’ group. “The numbers are really pretty remarkable.”

It remains unclear how long those gains will continue, as Massachusetts weathers federal spending cuts to defense and research through automatic reductions known as sequestration. Clayton-Matthews said he is also concerned about the recent increase in the payroll tax , which finances Social Security, could slow consumer spending.

Professional, scientific, and business services sector led the job gains in Massachusetts last month, adding 3,200 jobs in February. Construction, one of the sectors hardest hit during the recession added 1,400 jobs in February. Hiring in industry is up by 4,500 jobs, or 3.9 percent over the past year.

Government gained 2,800 jobs during the month, with the largest gains in local government, which added 2,000 jobs. State government added 800 jobs and federal employment levels remained unchanged.

Other services, which includes churches and bowling alleys, added 900 jobs in February and financial activities hiring was up by 700 jobs.

The sectors shedding jobs in February included education and health services, which lost 3,600 jobs for the month. Leisure and hospitality lost 2,400 jobs, manufacturing employment was down by 1,700, and information services shed 400 positions.

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