Massachusetts gains nearly 11,000 jobs in December, unemployment falls to 5.5 percent

Economic IndicatorsAssociated Press

Massachusetts gained nearly 11,000 jobs and its unemployment rate dropped three-tenths of a percentage point to 5.5 percent in December, the final month of former Gov. Deval Patrick's administration, the state office of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday.

Officials also said the state netted more than 60,000 new jobs in 2014, marking the single biggest year-to-year employment growth since 2000.

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Preliminary estimates from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics show Massachusetts gained 10,900 jobs last month alone, with the state's overall labor force increasing by about 2,800 individuals.

The bureau did revise downward slightly its initial estimate for job gains in November, showing an increase of 11,700, down from the previous estimate of 13,500.

When Patrick, a Democrat, took office in January 2007, Massachusetts' unemployment rate was 4.4 percent, according to state data. The rate climbed to as high as 8.5 percent at the height of the Great Recession, though it stayed below the U.S. rate during the bulk of the economic downturn and subsequent recovery.

The U.S. unemployment rate in December was 5.6 percent, down from 5.8 percent in November, the Labor Department reported earlier this month.

The state's overall labor force increased by about 200,000 during Patrick's eight years in office.

Despite a growing economy, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who took office Jan. 8, says he inherited an estimated $765 million budget deficit from his predecessor.

In a statement, the governor said the December jobs report shows progress in reducing unemployment, but that more work was needed.

"Our administration is committed to closing our state's deficit and focusing on meaningful steps to improve employment opportunities for everyone everywhere, especially veterans returning home, students entering the workforce, and those living in regions of our state still waiting for economic recovery," Baker said.

The administration is expected to announce proposed steps to close the budget shortfall by the end of the week.

Matt Fenlon, executive director of the Massachusetts Democratic party, said Thursday that the latest employment figures are a reflection of investments made by Democratic leaders in such things as education, transportation and clean energy, and he called on the Republican governor to continue those policies.