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State unemployment rate slips to 7.3 percent in January

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- Minnesota added 15,600 jobs in January, the biggest one-month gain in state employment since April 2005.

That left an unemployment rate of 7.3 percent for the month, a small tick downward from December's 7.4 percent. The national unemployment rate in January was 9.7 percent.

Dan McElroy, the state's commissioner of employment and economic development, said officials are encouraged by what appear to be signs of an economic recovery -- though he cautioned it's too early to say the state "has reached a turning point." While Minnesota unemployment shrunk, he contrasted the 7.3 percent jobless rate with a rate of under 5 percent as recently as two years ago.

"There's still too many people unemployed," McElroy said.

Still, state analysts see promising signs. McElroy pointed to temporary agencies, which reported a 5.1-percent increase in hiring of their workers compared to January 2009. "It's not that we think working temporary is a great opportunity, but it's an indicator of more hiring down the road," McElroy said.

Eight of the state's 11 industrial sectors added jobs in January, led by trade, transportation and utilities, and by professional and business services, which each added 4,000 jobs. The manufacturing, construction, leisure and hospitality, government, and information sectors all added jobs as well.

Logging and mining held steady, while education and health services and financial activities lost jobs.