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The Massachusetts workforce is almost back to its pre-pandemic size

Employers added nearly 17,000 jobs in November as more workers joined the labor force.

Massachusetts employers added nearly 17,000 jobs in November as more workers joined the labor force.Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

Massachusetts employers added 16,800 jobs in November, the US Labor Department said Friday, a slower pace than we’ve seen most of the year but still faster than prior to the pandemic.

The state’s unemployment rate ticked up by 0.1 percentage point to 5.4 percent. That’s actually good news because the increase was caused by more people starting to look for work.

The labor force — workers with a job and those seeking one — is just 6,800 people shy of the level in February 2020. The labor force participation rate, which has become a widely watched number amid a nationwide shortage of workers, rose by 0.3 percentage point to 66.3 percent. That’s only 0.1 percentage point below the pre-pandemic rate.

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Unemployment in the state remains higher than the 4.2 percent national average, but the latest numbers show continued modest and relatively steady improvement. Employers struggling to find workers should be encouraged by the addition of 14,100 people to the labor force.

Still, there are 172,000 fewer jobs in the state than before the pandemic. At this year’s rate of growth, it would take almost 10 months to close the gap.

The surveys of households and employers used to compile the November report were completed by midmonth. COVID cases were climbing at the time, but the threat of the Omicron variant hadn’t yet emerged.

Last month’s payroll gains were led by the leisure and hospitality sector, which added 5,400 jobs. Professional and business services climbed by 3,400 jobs, while education and health services added 2,200 jobs.

The Labor Department revised the increase in state payrolls for October to 26,400 jobs from 25,000.


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