Connecticut’s unemployment rate dropped to 8.1 percent to open 2013 after the state gained 4,700 jobs in January, the state Labor Department reported Friday.

And though public-sector job growth remains weak, more than 2,900 new professional and business jobs helped Connecticut reach a new employment high in its sluggish climb from the last recession. The new report shows the state has regained 43 percent of the more than 121,000 jobs lost in the last economic downturn.

“We are creating private sector jobs in Connecticut. We are growing the economy,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told a roomful of educators at the State Capitol Friday.

The jobless rate hit its lowest mark in January since June 2012, when it also stood at 8.1 percent. The unemployment rate hovered at or just below 9 percent for most of the second half of 2012 until solid job growth in December pushed the rate down to 8.2 percent.

“Job gains in January, along with a continuing decline in Connecticut’s unemployment rate, are good news,” said Andy Condon, research director for the Labor Department, who added that revised data show Connecticut’s job market fared better in 2012 than originally reported.

“Instead of the employment declines originally reported over the year, the revised data show that Connecticut’s job market continued on the modest, but positive recovery path established in 2011,” Condon said. “While the job recovery rate remains too slow to drive down our unemployment rate to more acceptable levels, it is much more in line with national trends.”

Six of the state’s major employment super-sectors saw job growth in January.

Besides the professional and business sector, other areas to grow jobs were: leisure and hospitality; trade, transportation and utilities; construction and mining; financial activities; and other services.

The government sector continued to contract in January, losing 1,500 jobs, as municipal, state and federal agencies continue to limit hiring to deal with lean budgets.

Connecticut’s manufacturing sector largely was unchanged to open the year, while education and health declined slightly after several months of growth.

With the overall gains in January, Connecticut now has recovered 52,600 or 43.4 percent of the 121,200 jobs it lost between March 2008 and February 2010.

Four of the state’s six major labor market areas posted job gains to open the year, including the Greater Hartford and Bridgeport areas, Danbury and Norwich-New London,

Waterbury and New Haven both recorded job losses of less than 1 percent.

While enthusiastic about the jobs numbers, Malloy warned the educators that if the state doesn’t educate suitable candidates for open jobs then the unemployment numbers will not be promising.

“We are getting close to the day that we could be losing again if we don’t do something about it,” he said. “There is nothing more important to me than having a business community that feels we are responsive to their needs.”

Jacqueline Rabe Thomas contributed to this article.

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Keith M. PhaneufState Budget Reporter

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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