Maryland's unemployment rate fell to 5.2 percent in September from 5.5 percent the month before, but there was very little job growth, the state reported yesterday. The main reason for the decline was summer employees and others leaving the work force.
Still, the 5.2 percent jobless rate was the lowest level since November of last year, according to the state Department of Economic and Employment Development, and it brings the state within one-tenth of a percent of the September 1990 jobless rate.
In the Baltimore area, unemployment fell to 5.8 percent from 6.2 percent, and Baltimore City saw its jobless rate drop to 8.5 percent from 9.0 percent in August. Only Garrett County had higher unemployment in September, at 8.6 percent.
"For the third consecutive month, the total number of Marylanders working is higher than it was for the same period dTC one year ago," DEED Secretary Mark L. Wasserman said in a statement. "We are optimistic as we look at this trend as a sign of a strengthening economy."
There was little strength in terms of job growth, however. In September only 400 more people were employed than the 2,452,576 who held jobs in August. The state jobless rate dropped primarily because some 9,100 workers left the labor force.
At Phillips Harborplace restaurant in the Inner Harbor, for instance, the summertime work force of 150 to 175 dropped by about 75 people after August, according to manager Christopher Cox. Worse, he said, there was less return business because his customers are "scaling down the amount of times they come out to dinner." They are also spending less when they come, Mr. Cox said.
Much of the employment drop-off was seen in the agricultural sector, the state reported, as non-agricultural jobs increased by a net of 4,600 in September. Some 5,100 new non-manufacturing jobs offset the loss of 500 manufacturing jobs during the month.
There were other encouraging signs for the future in the state's ++ economic report. Initial claims for unemployment benefits eased in September by about 1.3 percent, and total benefits were down $2 million from the August level of $34 million. Those numbers have been falling steadily for most of the year.
But the figures are sure to rise later this year because several large employers, including Westinghouse Electric Corp. and the state of Maryland, have announced large layoffs that are beginning to take effect.
Retailers are anxiously awaiting the holiday selling season and signs that consumers are ready to begin spending again. In August, they spent about $100 million more than during July, according to DEED. But the August sales of $3.1 billion were $200 million lower than during the same month last year.