The number of Marylanders filing claims for jobless benefits has fallen yet again, continuing a five-month trend that points to lower unemployment in the state.
In the week that ended May 16, there were 55,869 claims for unemployment insurance benefits, 2,800 fewer than in the previous week. Jobless claims have fallen more than 28 percent since a peak of more than 78,000 for the week that ended Jan. 25, which was the highest level in more than a year.
In Baltimore, the decline in jobless claims has not been as dramatic as the statewide drop. The 6,172 claims filed in the week that ended May 16 amounted to a decline of 16.8 percent compared with the number of claims five months earlier.
In March, the latest month for which figures are available, the state unemployment rate, which is not seasonally adjusted, fell to 7.4 percent from 7.5 percent in February. That was the first decline in six months.
Jobless benefits are the most current economic indicator, and some observers cheered the steady decline as confirmation that Maryland is in the midst of a slow recovery.
Last year, unemployment benefit claims rose through mid-March before starting to turn downward gradually in the spring. This year, the decline started in January and has been more precipitous.
"I'm pleased that they're dropping as rapidly as they are," said Pat Arnold, the director of the state's Office of Labor Market Analysis and Information. He said the number of people in Maryland who have exhausted their benefits also has fallen, from about 5,200 at the beginning of March to about 2,100 at the end of April.
Equally promising was the decline in the number of initial jobless claims, representing people who have recently lost jobs.
In late January, a period marked by post-Christmas retail layoffs, initial claims statewide topped 9,000 a week. By May 16, the number had fallen to 5,157 a week, indicating that far fewer people were losing their jobs than at the start of the year. Initial claims in the city fell 24 percent compared with the start of the year.
"It's extremely promising when initial cases start to go down and when total claims go down at the same time," said Michael A. Conte, director of the University of Baltimore's Jacob France Center for Business and Economic Studies.
Initial claims tend to rise faster than total claims at the start of a recession, Mr. Conte explained, but typically fall in lock step with total claims during a recovery.