ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- After nearly four years on the economic mend, Minnesota officials on Thursday hailed a "major milestone" now that the state has surpassed the employment level it had prior to the Great Recession.
A strong August that added a net 12,200 jobs pushed Minnesota over the employment peak of February 2008, before a precipitous fall that cost the state more than 150,000 jobs across most industry sectors.
"After 19 months of rapid decline and 47 months of modest growth we're now 5,100 jobs above the prior peak," said Steve Hine, the research director at the Department of Employment and Economic Development's Labor Information Office.
Agency commissioner Katie Clark Sieben called the August employment figures "a major milestone in the recovery of Minnesota's economy."
The same employment report shows the state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for the month was 5.1 percent, compared to the 7.3 percent national average. It is Minnesota's lowest jobless rate since April 2008.
Other states have pushed back above water faster. As of July, the eight states exceeding their pre-recession peak in jobs were Colorado, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Texas, Utah and West Virginia. Seven others had cleared the hurdle since last October but subsequently fell back. Among Minnesota's neighbors, only Wisconsin hasn't erased its deficit.
Gov. Mark Dayton, who faces re-election next year, said while he's encouraged by the report he's not declaring victory.
"We're not there yet. We still have too many people who are unemployed or underemployed. We are going to redouble our efforts and keep making every overture we can to every business."
The mix of jobs in Minnesota's economy have changed since the last time this many people were working. Logging, mining, education, health care and professional business services are among those where more people are employed than before. But construction, manufacturing and utilities jobs are some of those lagging behind earlier levels.
Officials couldn't say definitively how wages compare in the jobs lost in the recession to those added back, but they have detected a shift toward lesser-paying occupations in some sectors.
Hine said Minnesota is adding jobs twice as fast in the past year — averaging 5,250 per month — than it did in the trough-to-peak expansion after the prior recession that hit almost a decade ago.
Even so, Minnesota has more people and a larger labor force to accommodate than it did in February 2008. There are still 153,000 people who are officially unemployed.
"We're still not back at the point where we can say the economy is fully recovered," Hine said.
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