State sees increase in joblessness November rate hits 6.1 percent

January 11, 1992|By Ellen James Martin Jon Morgan of the Sun's Business staff contributed to this story.

Two years ago, Benjamin King searched desperately for people to work at his lighting fixture store in Bethesda. So acute was the labor shortage in Montgomery County that he ultimately turned to the county's refugee center for recruits. Still, he had to close his store each Monday for lack of clerks.

Now, with rising joblessness in Maryland, Mr. King finds himself swamped with unsolicited applications.

"We went 360 degrees from a situation where employers were begging for help to one in which a small sign in the window of a business could yield 30 or 40 people -- and half of them are bankers and real estate agents," he said.

November figures released yesterday show Maryland's jobless rate rose to 6.1 percent from October's 5.5 percent rate. The unemployment rate for December will be available next month. Unemployment rates also rose in such labor-short areas as Montgomery, Prince George's and Howard counties.

The total number of Marylanders working also increased for the fourth consecutive month in November, providing reason for hope, said Pradeep Ganguly, an economist with the state's Department of Economic and Employment Development.

"It is a good sign and it tells me that the increase in unemployment is probably seasonal," the economist said. People typically enter the job force in November as schools let out and retailers begin gearing up for the holidays. However, this year retail hiring was disappointing in Maryland, the DEED economist said.

And while business is hardly booming for many companies in suburban Maryland, at least some employers, such as Mr. King, have been relieved of the need for constant recruiting.

"Clearly, it's an employer's market now," said Mr. King, former president of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce. His store, known as Gaylord's, employs a dozen people and pays a starting salary of $7 to $8 an hour.

Mr. King is one of many suburban Maryland employers able to abandon the extraordinary methods they once used to persuade people to work for them.

Another example is the Greater Laurel Nursing Center, a Prince George's County nursing home where Kim Hall is the administrator.

"Two nights ago as I was leaving, five people came in to apply for jobs as nurse's aides -- but they said they were willing to work at just about any job at this point," Ms. Hall said.

The labor problem faced by the nursing home industry became so severe a few years ago that the Greater Laurel Center established an extensive van service to bring employees from poor communities in Baltimore City where unemployment runs higher than in the suburbs. The van service is no longer needed and will be cut back dramatically in February, Ms. Hall said.

The nursing home also cut out help-wanted advertising. "There's been a definite, definite increase in the work force we draw on -- so we don't have to go out and solicit anymore. We have too many qualified applicants," Ms. Hall said.

Valu Food Supermarkets Inc., with three stores in Howard County, has also been able to cut back its recruiting efforts, Louis Denrich, the company's president, said.

"We used to spend a fortune on advertising to find employees for [the company's stores in] Howard County and we don't have to do that anymore," he said.

The company used to rent hotel suites and hold recruiting events for its Howard stores but has dropped the practice.

In addition, it has ceased offering free transportation to city residents willing to work in Howard.

In the Baltimore area, unemployment in November rose to 6.7 percent from 6.1 percent the month before.

Areas of suburban Baltimore and Washington still have less unemployment than Maryland as a whole. Between October and November, unemployment rose in Montgomery County to 3.5 from 3.2 percent; in Prince George's County to 5.4 from 5 percent; and in Howard County to 4.2 from 4 percent.

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