- Associated Press - Thursday, March 20, 2014

BOSTON (AP) - The Massachusetts unemployment rate dropped back below the national average in February and the state added an estimated 3,800 jobs, officials said Thursday.

The jobless rate dropped to 6.5 percent from 6.8 percent in January, according to the state office of Labor and Workforce Development. The national unemployment rate for February announced earlier by the U.S. Labor Department was 6.7 percent.

In addition to the preliminary estimate of 3,800 jobs gained in Massachusetts last month, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics revised its earlier estimate of jobs lost in January from 4,500 to 3,900.

The state’s unemployment rate climbed above the national one in November for the first time in more than six years, and remained higher in December and January.

Gov. Deval Patrick and other state officials downplayed the significance of the Massachusetts rate exceeding the U.S. average. They pointed to signs of strong overall economic growth and suggested that the increase in the unemployment rate was the result of more residents becoming encouraged to rejoin the workforce and look for a job.

Massachusetts has gained 50,500 private sector jobs and a net total of 47,600 jobs in the past 12 months, according to Thursday’s report.

Among sectors of the economy that saw employment growth in February were professional, scientific and business services; trade, transportation and utilities; and manufacturing, the report said.

Leisure and hospitality, education and health services, and financial activities were among the sectors that reported a decline in jobs.

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