ST. PAUL — Minnesota's unemployment rate fell two-tenths of a percentage point in February to 4.3%, remaining below the national rate of 6.2%.

State officials said Thursday, March 25 that the drop resulted from a mix of successful and unsuccessful job searches both, the later of which pushed Minnesota's labor force participation rate — which measures the percentage of working-age residents who are employed or seeking employment — down slightly to 67.8%.

The effect of pandemic restrictions loosened in January was apparent in new figures for the hospitality industry. But numbers published Thursday do not capture the additional rollbacks Gov. Tim Walz announced earlier this month, which allowed bars, restaurants, gyms and other public-facing businesses to reopen for more in-person activity.

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Hotels and restaurants nonetheless added 13,500 jobs in February, an over the month increase of 6.9%.

"I think we can safely that our hospitality industry is having a comeback, and we encourage Minnesotans to get out there, to safely support your favorite restaurants, hotels and small businesses, so they can keep hiring workers back and speed up the pace of our recovery," Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove told reporters during a virtual news conference Thursday.

The state hospitality sector was still down by 26.1%, or 68,441 jobs, compared to February of last year but did contribute to Minnesota's net gain of 13,900 jobs total last month, a recovery of all but 200 of the jobs lost during a November-to-December spike in COVID-19 infections. Industries critical to the state, including construction and manufacturing, did report job losses in the thousands, however.

Over the month, Minnesota was up 0.5% in terms of jobs added. The U.S. as a whole added 379,000 jobs, up 0.3%. In total, the state has recovered roughly half of the 416,300 jobs it lost between February and April of last year.

The continuation of expanded unemployment insurance benefits included in the $1.9 trillion stimulus package that Congress passed this month is unlikely to dissuade out-of-work Minnesotans from seeking work, according to Grove. He pointed to the many calls that his office's career development arm is receiving as illustrative of jobseekers eagerness.

"We think now is the time for those who, for a whole host of reasons, may have stayed at home to take care of kids, or were concerned about the level of spread of the virus, to really consider what their next chapter might look like, and recognize that it might be a little bit different than the job that they left," he said.