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Economic ruler notes growth

The job market is still weak in the Bay State.

The Massachusetts Benchmarks economic index remained up slightly for January as economic activity finally surpassed its five-year peak, albeit with fewer jobs.

The index is compiled by the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute and named for the magazine published by the Institute and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

The January index reading was 129.1, up 2.6 percent at annual rates from December. The index is based on a reading of 100 in 1987 and is calculated to grow at the same rate as the real gross state product.

“We’re sort of in a holding pattern,” said Robert Nakosteen, a professor at the University’s Isenberg School of Management in Amherst and executive editor of Massachusetts Benchmarks magazine. “I think we all thought it was going to be a more robust recovery.”

The Massachusetts economy is growing more slowly than the national economy, he said.

Even so, the state measure passed the level of December 2000, at the peak of the last economic expansion and the start of the recent recession.

The current economy has offered significantly fewer jobs than in 2000, officials said. There are 180,000 fewer jobs, a 5 percent drop, mostly because of improvements in productivity, officials said.

“It’s a very weak job market recovery,” Nakosteen said.

The leading index, a measure of expected economic growth for the next six months in annualized terms, stood at 2.6 percent, down somewhat from its strong December reading.

Because of monthly fluctuations in the leading index components, a three-month average is more reliable, officials said. The three-month average is 3.0 percent growth.

Massachusetts has had seven quarters of economic growth and about a year of modestly growing employment, officials said. However, the economy has not grown rapidly in the state, and lags in the nation considerably.

“This is an economy where the glass is half full,” Alan Clayton-Matthews, professor of public policy at UMass-Boston, said in a statement.

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