ST. PAUL — The unemployment rate in Minnesota fell to 4.4% in December, down one-tenth of a percentage point from a revised rate for the month of November.

State officials on Thursday, Jan. 21, attributed the drop to a decline in the number of unemployed Minnesotans who are actively seeking work. The labor force participation rates, which measure the number of people who are either employed or looking for employment, dipped to 67.5% last month, down four-tenths of a percentage point from November.

Figures released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development offered new insight on the impact that a late fall surge in COVID-19 infections had on employment. The leisure and hospitality industry was especially hard hit when Gov. Tim Walz ordered bars and restaurants to cease serving food and drinks onsite.

In total, Minnesota lost 49,800 jobs in December, 41,100 of which were in the leisure and hospitality sector. December marked a second consecutive month of job losses for the state.

Jobs lost in November and December also stunted the recovery of the 387,800 jobs that Minnesota shed between February and April, the outset of the coronavirus pandemic. The state had regained slightly more than half of the jobs eliminated in that time period by October.

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The last two months of job losses, however, erased the gains Minnesota made between August and October, meaning the state has now recovered only about 36% of the nearly 400,000 jobs lost in the spring.

Over the year, Minnesota lost a total of 238,056 jobs in December.

On a phone call with reporters Thursday, DEED Commissioner Steve Grove said that he did expect the hospitality industry to recover somewhat from the blow dealt by the November spike in COVID-19 cases. Bars and restaurants were cleared to admit patrons to their dining rooms earlier this month as the state's pandemic outlook improved.

"We are feeling good about the fact that the moves the governor took clearly had a big effect on the rate of COVID-19 spread in the state, and the sacrifices that businesses and workers and Minnesotans across the state made to create a safer place for us all were worth it," Grove said. "We do expect to see some improvements in the coming months."

Contact Forum News Service reporter Matthew Guerry at mguerry@forumcomm.com or 651-321-4314