Connecticut added 600 jobs in December and the unemployment rate dropped to 8.2 percent, continuing to fall faster than the national rate.

In 2011, the state added 9,000 jobs and its unemployment rate dropped to 8.2 percent from 9 percent, while the national unemployment rate fell to 8.5 percent from 9.4 percent.

A net 600 jobs were added last month, overcoming losses in manufacturing and finance with gains in retail and arts and entertainment. The Danbury area showed a gain of 2,000 jobs for the year, while the Bridgeport-Stamford metro region lost 200. Danbury remained the strongest job market, with an unemployment rate of 6 percent, while Bridgeport-Stamford was at 7.1 percent. Both were improvements over November and the year.

"We're making slow progress," said Peter Gioia, vice president and economist for the state's largest business group, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. "But we have a long way to go."

Gioia said Connecticut is probably doing better than the report shows, as the current survey methods required by the U.S. Department Labor don't cover the smaller companies' payrolls as well as they do for larger and mid-sized companies. He said revisions to the numbers could probably increase overall hiring by a couple thousand.

"I think we have potential for slightly higher growth in 2012," he said, as new tax policies to encourage training and hiring in manufacturing kick in as well as some benefits for investments.

Gioia and New Haven-based economist Donald Klepper-Smith said the unemployment rate in the state provides a mixed message. The rate is falling due to increased employment, but also because of people dropping out of the workforce, they said.

Klepper-Smith said at three-tenths better than the national rate, it is a positive sign for the economy, and overall, the state has kept pace with the country in this recovery rather than lagging behind as it has on a historical basis.

Looking into 2012 and beyond, Klepper-Smith said the unemployment rate is less important than the number of job gains and losses, which tell you more about the direction of income and the economy.

While the December report was mostly seen as a sign of improvement in the job market, Klepper-Smith and Gioia said the jobs number fell short of some expectations that Connecticut would have added more than 1,000 positions, given the national addition of 200,000 in December.