LITTLE ROCK (AP) — Arkansas' January unemployment rate was unchanged from December at 7.6 percent, but state officials said Wednesday they want to see a longer interval of stability before they will be convinced the state is pulling out of the recession.

Arkansas, whose unemployment rate remains more than two percentage points below the national average, has avoided sharp budget cuts while neighboring states have slashed hundreds of millions of dollars from their budgets. The national unemployment rate dropped from 10 percent to 9.7 percent in January.

Since January 2009, nonfarm employment in Arkansas has declined by 27,900, with 16,600 of the job losses in manufacturing. The educational and health services category grew by 6,700 positions over the 12-month period.

Gov. Mike Beebe has noted that Arkansas has made up for a lot of its job losses, sometimes with better jobs. Many of those jobs are in the energy industry, including natural gas drillers in the Fayetteville Shale play, wind energy companies that picked Arkansas for new plants and the Southwest Power Pool Inc., which kept its headquarters in Little Rock and says it will add 200 jobs to its high-end payroll.

Also, the state has picked up some high-tech jobs, such as the hundreds hired by Hewlett-Packard Co. in Conway at its new technical service center.

Despite the bright spots, Beebe said it was "too early" to declare that Arkansas has turned the corner.

"I'm glad that we're not going up anymore. I'm glad were still a couple of points or more (below) the national (unemployment) average," he said. "If this lasts for several months, either flat or going down, I'll start smiling more."

The Department of Workforce Services sent a similar message.

"Although Arkansas is still feeling the affects of the recession, our rate has only increased two-tenths of a percentage point since July 2009. It is too soon to tell, however, if our unemployment rate is stabilizing," department spokeswoman Kimberly Friedman said,

The Arkansas unemployment rate for January 2009 was 6.5 percent, seasonally adjusted.

The state unemployment rate for December was originally announced at 7.7 percent, but it was adjusted downward to conform to a new U.S. Labor Department process for determining seasonally adjusted civilian labor force data. The state Department of Workforce Services says it has adjusted unemployment data back to 1976 to employ the change.

From December to January, the state lost 20,300 nonfarm jobs, for a total of 1,138,400 employed people in January.

Retail accounted for 5,600 of the job losses, which came with the end of the holiday shopping season.

Winter break at public schools was responsible for most of the 4,500 job losses in the government sector. Overall, that sector posted a gain of 3,000 jobs in the 12-month period.

For the December-to-January period, nine sectors experienced job losses, with two posting gains.