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Maryland gained almost 5,000 jobs in December, but the state’s job creation last year was still its smallest since 2009, according to federal labor department figures released Jan. 18.

Meanwhile, its unemployment rate was unchanged last month at 6.6 percent, well below the national rate of 7.8 percent.

Maryland’s private sector led job generation in December, as government jobs declined by almost 3,000, with half of those in state government. All told, the state lost about 9,000 public-sector jobs last year — half in local jurisdictions. It was the first year since 2003 in which the state lost government jobs.

Maryland created more than 30,000 private jobs last year, but its rate for private job growth last year of 1.5 percent was still a little below the national average of 1.7 percent. The state’s total job creation rate of 0.8 percent was below the national average of 1.4 percent and below Maryland’s rate in 2011 and 2010.

However, Maryland matched the job-creation rate of regional competitor Virginia last year and exceeded growth in Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania and West Virginia, which saw the largest percentage job decline in the nation in 2012.

The slower pace of job growth last year in Maryland is not entirely surprising, given the government job losses and fiscal cliff issue, said Raquel Frye, associate director of the Regional Economic Studies Institute’s Applied Economics division at Towson University.

“I expect to see some revisions upwards for December like there were for November,” she said.

Maryland job figures for November were revised to a loss of 1,500 from a preliminary 3,100 loss reported in December.

The private growth last month was the highest for the state since 1990, Maryland Labor Secretary Leonard J. Howie III said in a conference call with reporters.

“We’re pleased that our investments in workforce training and education are continuing to pay off,” Howie said.

The losses in state and local government jobs tend to reflect a restructuring in those areas, rather than an impact from fewer federal jobs, Frye said.

“We have been seeing a trend of losses in local government for a couple of years now,” she said.

Maryland had 252,500 local government jobs two years ago — when federal stimulus money helped bolster public-sector growth — and that was down to 244,300 last month.

About half of the private jobs created last year in Maryland, or 14,000, were in accounting, architecture, engineering, information technology and other professional services. Some 9,000 were in health care, 7,000 in administrative services and 4,000 in construction.

Losses of 3,600 and 1,400 were seen in 2012 in manufacturing and financial services, respectively.

The growth in the professional services sector bodes well for the state, as those jobs tend to be high-paying, Frye said.

As for this year’s economic outlook, the possibility of more federal budget cuts and the health care reform law’s mandate that employers with more than 50 employees offer health insurance will likely be a drag on Maryland’s job growth, she said.