The Massachusetts unemployment rate held steady at 6.6 percent in November, putting an end to a four-month streak of increases, and keeping jobless numbers well below the national average of 7.7 percent.
About 1,100 jobs were lost last month, the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday, but year-over-year numbers showed the ranks of the employed have grown by 46,600. That increase was partially attributable to a revision of the October figures — 11,900 jobs were added to the economy instead of the 7,900 previously recorded, officials said.
Alan Clayton-Matthews, a Northeastern University economist, said the net job gains made in Massachusetts over the last few months were surprising given how the US economy sputtered in the third quarter. The tepid performance was blamed on the effects of Europe's recession and a slowdown in Asia and other emerging markets.
"I was expecting a fourth quarter where we would see virtually no employment growth, [but] we're actually having moderate growth," Clayton-Matthews said.
He said the economy's direction depends on how political leaders in Washington, D.C., deal with the approaching fiscal cliff deadline of Jan. 1. Many companies have been putting off hiring as they wait for the debate to get settled.
A monthly business confidence index maintained by Associated Industries of Massachusetts, a trade group, suggests local employers worry that economic conditions may deteriorate if Congress and the president can't reach a compromise on spending and taxes.
"There's great uncertainty out there," said Andre Mayer, the group's senior vice president of communications and research. "Everybody's kind of on hold, and nothing much is moving."
Hiring is a major commitment by an employer, Mayer said, and "employers are reluctant to do it when they're not clear about what might happen next."
Thursday's state unemployment report also included a breakdown of gains and losses for various segments.
The trade, transportation, and utilities sector added 5,500 jobs during November, while 1,100 education and health services positions were created.
On the downside, 4,000 leisure and hospitality sector jobs were eliminated, and the manufacturing industry dropped 2,600 jobs, according to state figures.
But Michael Goodman, an associate professor and chairman of the public policy department at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, said the month-to-month fluctuations and regular revisions of jobs numbers blunt the significance of the reports.
"The volatility in these monthly estimates makes it really hard to draw a firm conclusion about what's happening in the Massachusetts labor market," Goldman said.