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The nearly 5,000 new jobs added in February means the state is one-third of the way to a full labor recovery from the Great Recession, economists said Thursday.
"We're getting a good start to the year," said Don Klepper-Smith, chief economist and director of research for Durham-based DataCore Partners, in a newsletter to clients. "Full job recovery? Maybe mid-2015."
Peter Gioia, chief economist and vice president of the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, said the breadth of the jobs gains in February was particularly impressive. Construction, manufacturing, education, wholesale and retail trade and the transportation sectors were all up, he said.
"That is really solid performance," Gioia said. "Hopefully, it's the beginning of a trend."
Even the Norwich-New London area, which has been hit hard by job losses in recent months, saw a gain of 500 jobs from January to February. Still, the number of jobs in the region was 2,500 below where it stood in February 2011.
On the plus side, the region's 8.6 percent unemployment rate last month was more than a point lower than during the same period in 2011.
"It appears the region's mild winter continues to help job growth in Connecticut across many industries," Andy Condon, director of the Labor Department's office of research, said in a statement. "Unemployment continues to decline, although the strength of the move is diminished somewhat by the second consecutive monthly decline in our labor force."
Statewide numbers show job trends have been looking up in recent months. In addition to February's job gains of 4,900, Connecticut saw an increase of an adjusted 5,400 jobs in January, according to the latest numbers from the state Department of Labor.
The state gained 12,100 jobs in February compared with the same month last year and has added 39,100 jobs since February 2010. But the jobs recovery here still lags the rest of the nation, which has seen a nearly 40 percent comeback in positions lost during the recession, Klepper-Smith said.
Meanwhile, the state's unemployment rate fell from 8 percent in January to 7.8 percent last month. In February of last year, the rate was 9.2 percent.
"This is good news," Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said in a statement. "The state is seeing a trend that we will fight to continue."
The state's unemployment rate hasn't been this low since April 2009. February's jobless rate in Connecticut also was half a point below the U.S. rate.
But Klepper-Smith said he didn't expect unemployment to dip too much lower over the next year. "My expectation is that the official Connecticut unemployment readings will range from about 7 percent to 8 percent over the next year," he said, "as profound structural changes and modest demand for labor keeps unemployment high."
Klepper-Smith said his biggest concern is that state residents' real disposable income has been coming down lately on a year-over-year basis, which could keep a lid on economic expansion. High gas prices, especially an aggressive move well over the $4-a-gallon mark, would put another damper on spending, he added.
"All economic recoveries are unique, but we have some ways to go before consumers feel comfortable with a meaningful step-up in personal consumption expenditures," Klepper-Smith said.
500 — Job gains in the Norwich-New London area from January to February
2,500 — Job losses in the Norwich-New London area between February 2011 and the same month this year
8.6 percent — Unemployment rate in the Norwich-New London area last month, compared to 8.8 percent in January and 9.7 percent in February 2011