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Minnesota's unemployment rate held steady at 3.3% last month, and preliminary data showed the state added just 4,000 jobs for all of 2019, the state jobs agency said Thursday.

The state's job growth began to slow markedly two years ago, chiefly because of the demographic trend in which the retirement of baby boomers outpaces the arrival of younger people into the labor force.

Throughout 2019, the state's unemployment rate ranged from 3% to 3.4%, below the nation's rate.

However, as the economy continues to remain strong, the U.S. is closing in on both the lower unemployment rate and slower rate of job growth that Minnesota has experienced for several years.

"Minnesota's labor market is tighter, but the U.S. is going to catch up with us," said Oriane Casale, interim director of the labor market office at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

"This is all being driven by demographics," she said. "This is constraining growth in Minnesota and clearly having some effect nationwide as well."

The state's job growth amounted to a rate of 0.1% for the 12 months ended Dec. 31. The U.S. added jobs at a 1.4% pace in 2019.

The state's labor-force participation rate held steady at 70.3% in December, one of the highest in the nation and well above the national rate of 63.2%.

During the month, trade, transportation and utilities employers added the most jobs in the state. Services, with the exception of education and health, was the next-biggest gainer, followed by increases at leisure and hospitality employers and various government agencies.

Education and health services employers showed the biggest job losses, followed by manufacturers.

Duluth and its neighboring communities shed just over 500 jobs last year, the only one of the five metro regions in the state to record a drop. That amounted to a 0.4% decline for the broadly defined Duluth metro area of St. Louis, Carlton and Douglas (Wis.) counties.

The state jobs agency in the next few weeks will go through an annual evaluation and reconciliation of its data with other sources, including unemployment insurance reports, before making a final report on 2019's performance in early March.

Staff writer Brooks Johnson in Duluth contributed to this report.

Evan Ramstad • 612-673-4241