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Mass. lost 4,500 jobs in Jan.

The Massachusetts unemployment rate fell to 6.8 percent in January, down from a revised 7.1 percent rate in December as the local economy lost 4,500 jobs in the first month of 2013, the state’s Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development said in a Thursday press release.

The current national unemployment rate is 6.6 percent.

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The mixed report follows what was a strong year for the Massachusetts economy. Revised 2013 data released Thursday showed the state added more than 55,000 jobs, the best job growth since the dot-come boom early in the last decade. That followed annual gains of 53,000 in 2012 and 44,000 in 2011.

Economists, however, note that the benefits of the state’s expansion are not being distributed evenly. Unemployment remains high, especially among those with lower levels of education ,while earnings of lower- and middle-income families are barely growing.

“The story for the Massachusetts economy, if you ignore high levels of unemployment and inequality, is the economy has been performing very well,” said Alan Clayton-Matthews, an economics professor at Northeastern University.

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The mixed picture in January appears to be the result of the different ways the US Labor Department measures payroll employment and the unemployment rate. Job statistics come from a survey of employers, who report the number of workers on payrolls. The unemployment rate is estimated from a survey of households, which also includes contract workers, the self-employed, and other workers not on company payrolls.

Clayton-Matthews said the drop in the unemployment rate was encouraging because it appeared the result of more people finding work as opposed to people giving up job searches. (Only those who seek work are counted as unemployed.) The number of people looking for work increased in January.

Clayton said some of the reported job losses in January could be related to the end of seasonal retail jobs after the holiday. He added that monthly data is volatile and subject to revision.

“I don’t think that indicates any trend of slowing down the economy,” he said. “It’s just the type of variation we get from month to month.”

In January, most of the job losses were in government, which shed 2,900 jobs. Private sector employers cut a net 1,600 jobs.

Five employment sectors, including construction, leisure and hospitality, and financial services, added jobs in January. Among the sectors losing jobs were manufacturing and professional and business services.

Globe reporter Megan Woolhouse contributed to this report. Chris Reidy can be reached at reidy@globe.com.

Correction: An earlier version stated the incorrect year of the January jobs report.

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