Baltimore lost 29,000 jobs last year Employment dips to lowest level in more than decade

March 28, 1992|By Kim Clark | Kim Clark,Staff Writer

Employment in Baltimore, touted as one of the nation's few reviving cities in the 1980s, has dropped to its lowest level in more than a decade, as the recession wiped out nearly 29,000 jobs last year.

In a gloomy assessment of the recession's impact throughout the state, the U.S. Department of Labor found that the number of jobs in Baltimore dropped more than the rest of the state, and that the state's employment level shrank more than any state in the region.

"Maryland probably got smacked with a double whammy," said Mark Wasserman, secretary of the state's Department of Economic and Employment Development. "We have felt the ravages of a typical recession as well as a structural shakeout the dimensions of which we don't yet fully understand."

Nearly 75,000 Maryland jobs disappeared last year, the report said. The state's employment level shrank by 3.4 percent -- the worst rate of any state from New Jersey to Geor

gia, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is part of the Labor Department.

But the worst news came from Baltimore, which lost 6.3 percent of its jobs, far worse than comparable cities. Philadelphia's employment shrank by 3.5 percent last year, while Washington, D.C. lost only 1.3 percent of its jobs.

Baltimore's economy shrank so much that its share of jobs in the six-county region fell to an all-time low. More than six out of 10 jobs in the area are now in the suburbs.

The report brought concern -- but no surprise -- from businesspeople, economists and politicians.

"The numbers aren't surprising. But they are depressing," said Clint Coleman, spokesman for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

"The city is in a depression while the rest of the country is in a recession," he said.

Mr. Coleman said that while everyone recognizes 1991 was rough for the city, he said he sees signs of hope for 1992.

"Things are not all bad. . . . We've got the light rail, the new stadium" and other development projects that should help city businesses rebound, he said.

Indeed, there was one tiny bright spot: The loss of 10,000 jobs statewide in January was smaller than most January declines, said Alan Paisner, a Labor Department spokesman.

But businesspeople and economists who have been watching the job exodus from the city said they waver between fear that urban decay will worsen, and faith that Baltimore will rebound.

"I keep looking at Detroit, and it keeps scaring me," said Hugh Sisson, owner of a restaurant and small brewery near the Cross Street Market in South Baltimore. "My gut reaction is that it is not going to happen here, but I don't know what is going to prevent it from happening," he said.

Although he says he is committed to keeping his business in the city, he said he understands why Baltimore has been losing jobs.

"Property taxes in the city are twice what they are in the county, and that is pushing businesses out,"he said.

But taxes aren't the only problem, Mr. Sisson and economists say. A variety of factors -- ranging from increasing crime to an overreliance on cyclical industries, such as manufacturing and construction -- were blamed for the city's decline.

Robert B. Hill, who heads the Institute for Urban Studies at Morgan State University, said the city has suffered disproportionately this time because it was weakened by earlier recessions.

"Baltimore is extremely vulnerable. . . . We had not even recovered from previous recessions before we were impacted by this one," Mr. Hill said.

The recession cut the number of jobs in Baltimore from a high of nearly 473,000 in 1989 to 432,600 last year -- the lowest level since the federal government started keeping track in 1978.

Last year's decline followed a much smaller drop in 1990 when Baltimore lost 11,400 jobs. The city had registered employment gains in six of the previous seven years.

The state also did poorly, even though many had believed that Maryland would be insulated from economic downturn because of its reliance on previously stable industries such as defense.

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