The state gained 5,400 jobs this past month and over the past year added nearly 29,000 jobs, but Connecticut's unemployment rate remained stuck at 9 percent - still slightly above the national rate of 8.9 percent.
The state Department of Labor said Thursday the jobs gains are a sign the statewide economy - with a work force of some 1.62 million - is showing some signs of recovery.
Nearly all the state's labor markets showed employment growth during February, including Norwich and New London, which gained 100 jobs to bring the total work force to 128,700. The Norwich-New London labor market, however, lost 800 jobs from February 2009 to February 2010 - the state's only labor market to show such steep job losses. In February, the jobless rate for the Norwich and New London areas - which unlike the statewide rate isn't seasonally adjusted - stood at 9.6 percent.
"While Connecticut's unemployment rate has remained at, or around, 9 percent for the past year, other economic indicators have shown improvement in that time," said Salvatore DiPillo, labor statistics supervisor. "Since the beginning of 2010, initial claims for unemployment insurance are down 9 percent," he said.
Private-sector employees are working longer hours on average, and DiPillo said if the jobs-related trends hold up, Connecticut will have recovered nearly 25 percent of the jobs lost during the Great Recession.
During February, Connecticut's economy rebounded from the job losses it suffered in the storm-plagued January, with nearly every industry sector showing gains, including construction and education and health services. The state's professional and business-services sector showed the biggest job gains during February, jumping by 3,100 jobs.
Don Klepper-Smith, chief economist and director of research at the New Haven-based DataCore Partners LLC, said the February jobs numbers exceeded his expectations.
In a research note to his clients, Klepper-Smith said the job gains indicate the overall economic recovery is now "shifting into the growth phase where job gains become a bit more tangible."
"Going forward," said Klepper-Smith, "I expect near-term job gains through the end of the year to be choppy and erratic." He added that he is still comfortable with his projections of 25,000 new jobs on an average annual basis for the two-year period between 2010 and 2012.
Peter Gioia, a vice president and economist with the Hartford-based Connecticut Business & Industry Association, agreed the monthly labor report was good news. He said the addition of 5,400 new jobs in February was positive news for the state's economy, adding that all but one area of the state - New Haven - reported positive job growth during the month.
Gioia also said the report showed an increase in the number of hours worked, another positive sign. He said the only negative news is that Connecticut's unemployment rate still remains firmly at 9 percent, above the U.S. rate of 8.9 percent.