Unemployment in Maryland rose sharply for the second straight month in December, to 6.0 percent from 5.3 percent in November.
Unemployment in Baltimore reached almost 10 percent in December, fueled largely by layoffs in auto manufacturing, according to state officials, who said those layoffs boosted the state figures as well.
Despite Maryland's reputation for being recession-resistant, the December figures, which are seasonally unadjusted, put the state ahead of the comparable U.S. rate of 5.9 percent for the first time in almost 10 years.
The last time that occurred was in November 1981, when Maryland came in 0.2 percentage points higher than the U.S. rate of 7.9 percent, according to Pat Arnold, director of the Office of Labor Market Analysis.
The seasonally adjusted U.S. rate in December was 6.1 percent. Maryland releases only seasonally unadjusted figures.
In the state, more than 16,000 workers became officially unemployed in December, while almost 14,000 people left the labor force.
In December 1989, the state unemployment rate was 3.2 percent.
The news is even more distressing, economists said, because seasonal hiring tends to increase employment at the end of the year.
"December is usually a month when the unemployment rate goes down, so the news is doubly bad," said Michael Conte, director of the University of Baltimore's Center for Business and Economic Studies.
"For January, we're probably looking at it going up even farther," Mr. Conte said. "From my point of view, we're heading into the woods rather than heading out of it."
Mr. Arnold said, however, that three months of sharp increases in a row are too many to expect.
"I don't think we're going to take the same kind of increase from December to January," he said, especially if the national recession turns out to be relatively mild.
In Baltimore, the seasonally unadjusted jobless rate flirted with double digits in December, leaping 1.6 percentage points, to 9.8 percent, compared with 5.4 percent a year ago. Total unemployment in the city rose to more than 33,600 from about 27,000 in November.
"After months of holding strong against the national economic downturn, Maryland's economy has begun to show signs of softening . . ." the state Department of Economic and Employment Development said in releasing the figures.
The department said hiring continued in general merchandise, apparel and food stores, health services, trucking and local government.
The declines were sharpest in construction, auto manufacturing, hotels and amusements, food processing and agricultural and business services.
Statewide, Montgomery County's jobless rate was lowest, at 3.3 percent, while Worcester County's 15.3 percent ranked it highest.
Despite the increased demand on the state's unemployment insurance program, J. Randall Evans, secretary of economic and employment development, said, it is "comforting to know that the Maryland Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund remains solvent and that procedures are in place to keep the fund replenished."
In addition to an automatic unemployment insurance surtax expected to kick in this summer, the department is asking the General Assembly to raise the tax on employers by 0.2 percentage points across-the-board.