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Mass. job growth best since 2000

The Massachusetts economy added more than 10,000 jobs in December as the state capped its best year for job growth since the dot-com era.

Despite the impact of automatic federal budget cuts known as sequestration, the state gained more that 55,000 jobs in 2013, compared to about 49,000 in 2012 and 43,000 in 2011, the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported Thursday. It was the best year of job growth since 2000, when the tech boom — shortly before it went bust — drove the creation of about 95,000 jobs.

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“That’s about as good as you can expect to do,” said Daniel Hodge, director of economic and public policy research at the University of Massachusetts’s Donahue Institute. “To add 55,000 jobs in a year when the federal government and sequestration providing a negative drag shows really well for the private sector in Massachusetts.”

The state unemployment rate slipped to 7 percent last month, from 7.1 percent in November. For the year, unemployment averaged 6.9 percent, up from 6.7 percent in 2012. The nation’s annual average was 7.4 percent.

These figures, however, could change. The US Labor Department will release its annual revisions of state employment and unemployment data in March. In some years, those revisions have been significant.

Since a slowdown in the summer, Massachusetts employers have added jobs in each of the past five months. December’s increases followed gains of 5,100 jobs in November and more than 9,000 in both October and September.

Alan Clayton-Matthews, a Northeastern University economics professor, said the state is benefitting from stronger national and world economies. The International Monetary Fund recently said it expected the global economy to grow faster than earlier forecasts, noting improving consumer confidence in Europe and a roaring stock market in the United States.

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Last month, the biggest job employment gains in Massachusetts came in professional, scientific and business services, which include technology, scientific research, and consulting firms. That sector added 4,700 jobs in December and more than 14,000 in 2013.

Trade, transportation, and utilities, including retailers, added 4,300 jobs last month and 8,700 over the year. Leisure and hospitality, which includes hotels and restaurants, added 2,600 jobs over the month, 5,000 for the year.

Construction lost 1,300 jobs in December after posting strong job gains for most of 2013. The sector added 3,500 jobs over the year. The manufacturing and education and health services sectors each shed 300 jobs last month.

In November, the Massachusetts unemployment surpassed the nation’s for the first time in more than five years and remained above the national rate of 6.7 percent in December.

Clayton-Matthews said the state’s relatively high unemployment rate “just doesn’t jibe” with the strong job growth reported by employers. The federal government conducts two separate surveys, one of employers that is used to estimate job growth and another of households on which the unemployment rate is based.

Clayton-Matthews noted economists tend to view the household survey, which uses a smaller sample, as less accurate than the employer survey. One possible explanation for the high state unemployment rate, he said, is that joblessness is concentrated in certain groups.

For example, he said that in the last year, the average jobless rate for people under age 25 rose to 16 percent in 2013.

“In this stage of the business cycle, you would hope to have rapid employment growth,” he said. “We haven’t had rapid. We’ve had steady and decent employment growth.”

Megan Woolhouse can be reached at mwoolhouse@ globe.com.

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