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The long, slow return of the Mass. job market

Employers added 25,000 jobs in October, but it could take another eight months to get back prepandemic levels.

Massachusetts employers are finding it easier to hire workers.Jenny Kornreich

The state’s economic recovery from the COVID shock of 2020 is nearly complete, with one important exception: the job market.

The Massachusetts economy — the value of goods and services produced — is bigger now than it was before the pandemic. Personal incomes are higher and so are retail sales.

Most key measures of employment, however, have not returned to their February 2020 marks, and the gains since the bottom of the recession have lagged behind the national average.

But data released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics offers some encouragement. Employment growth is continuing to rebound, albeit at a modest pace, from the summer setback caused by the Delta variant. More people are joining the workforce. The worker shortage persists but is easing.

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Massachusetts employers added 25,000 jobs in October, nearly double the gain of the prior month. Monthly job growth has averaged nearly 19,000 this year.

Some 5,600 people entered the labor force last month. That’s fewer than in September, but the number of people with a job or looking for one is the highest it’s been since May.

The expanding ranks of job seekers pushed the unemployment rate up to 5.3 percent from 5.2 percent in September. That increase should eventually be reversed if employers extend their hiring run.

Nationally, the economy added 531,000 jobs in October, the Labor Department said earlier this month, and the unemployment rate dipped to 4.6 percent from 4.8 percent. The jump in payrolls exceeded economists’ forecasts and was the biggest increase since the blowout month of July, when nearly 1.1 million jobs were created before Delta took its toll.

There are several reasons for the state’s underperformance on jobs.

Massachusetts was hit harder than most states early in the crisis, leading to a relatively tighter shutdown and larger layoffs. The state was slower than most to reopen. And our mix of jobs — with an above-average reliance on sectors such as restaurants, travel, education, and health care — has held us back, even with a vaccination rate that is among the highest in the country.

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It’s been 18 months since the job market hit bottom. Here’s where the state stands compared with February 2020, and how we stack up against the rest of the country.

And here’s what has happened to jobs in key sectors of the Massachusetts economy.

There is a chance the recent rise in COVID cases slows job growth in the cold months ahead, but it’s unlikely we’ll see a return of the same kind of severe social distancing restrictions now being imposed in some parts of Europe.

Still, at last month’s rate of growth, it will take another eight months or so for Massachusetts to make up the last 190,000 jobs that disappeared in March and April 2020.

That’s a sobering stat.


Larry Edelman can be reached at larry.edelman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeNewsEd.