Maryland jobless rate dips to 6.3% New hires outpace rise in job seekers

February 06, 1993|By Kim Clark | Kim Clark,Staff Writer

In another sign that Maryland's economy is slowly improving, the state reported yesterday that in December, for the first time in four years, the pace of new hires outstripped the increase in the number of job seekers.

Maryland's unemployment rate dropped to 6.3 percent in December from 6.5 percent the month before, continuing a slow and bumpy decline that began after a peak of 7.5 percent in February last year.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer and other state officials hailed the news as evidence that the state is recovering from the recession. But the report, from the state's Department of Economic and Employment Development, included some disheartening evidence of continuing job erosion.

Most economists said that the indicators, while mixed, were nevertheless positive.

"This shows a little bit of progress," said Mahlon Straszheim, an economics professor at the University of Maryland and chief economic consultant to Mr. Schaefer.

Maryland's unemployment rate, which is not seasonally adjusted, remained below the national December unemployment rate of 7 percent.

In addition, DEED said, 16,000 Marylanders reported getting new jobs in December, raising the number of employed people to nearly 2.45 million, an improvement over 1992's levels but about 40,000 below the 1991 peak.

But while Marylanders reported getting more jobs, Maryland employers reported more layoffs.

The number of jobs in Maryland dropped by more than 3,000 in December and was down 43,700 from last year at this time.

Robert Schoeplein, head of DEED's office of research, said the disparity might be caused by the growing number of Marylanders who are finding jobs out of the state.

In addition, as more employers reduce staff, Marylanders were increasingly giving up on finding jobs and were setting out to start their own businesses.

The mixed employment numbers were expected, despite other evidence of an economic recovery, because employers tend to avoid hiring as long as possible, Mr. Schoeplein said, noting that the length of the average work week continues to climb.

"People [who have jobs] are working longer hours and harder. Employers usually wait to hire until there is a morale problem," he said.

The employment picture was mixed within the state. While unemployment dropped to 3.4 percent in Montgomery County and 4.4 percent in Howard County, long-troubled areas, such as the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland, saw unemployment levels rise.

Worcester County's unemployment rate jumped to 17.1 percent, and Garrett County's rate rose to 11.1 percent.

Baltimore City's unemployment rate improved by nearly half a percentage point, to 9.6 percent.

Employment agencies in the city said much of the increase, in Baltimore and in Howard County in particular, stemmed from demand for medical and legal secretaries and anyone with familiarity with computers.

Ilene Robinson, a recruiter for Professional Employment in Baltimore, said she's been placing 12 to 15 medical and legal secretaries a month in permanent positions.

Linda Kaestner of Snelling Personnel Services said her office has demand for systems analysts, who start at about $28,500 a year, and computer service technicians, who start at $22,000.

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