Md. jobless rate up sharply in June 6.8% figure reflects sluggish recovery

August 07, 1993|By David Conn | David Conn,Staff Writer

Maryland's unemployment rate jumped sharply in June, to 6.8 percent, from 6 percent in May, as summer job-seekers swelled an already tight labor market, the state reported yesterday.

The employment figures indicate a recovery that continues at a snail's pace, economists agreed. They differed on whether the second half of the year holds the promise of anything more than the same.

The rise in the Maryland jobless rate was the largest monthly increase since January 1990 and the biggest May-to-June increase in 13 years, according to the Department of Economic and Employment Development. It left unemployment one-tenth of a percentage point higher than the revised figure for June 1992.

The unusually sharp increase does not, however, reflect the state's overall economic performance, said DEED Secretary Mark L. Wasserman.

"Maryland has been undergoing a spotty recovery from the recession, but no one can [deny] the fact that we are in a period of very slow recovery," he said. "That we would see an eight-tenths of a percent rise doesn't fit the pattern."

Baltimore City shared, with Garrett County, the distinction of being the jurisdictions with the highest June unemployment rate: 11.5 percent. In May, the rate in Baltimore City had been 10.1 percent. The region with the weakest job market was Western Maryland. In only two counties -- Talbot and Worcester on the Eastern Shore -- did unemployment fall in June.

Mahlon Straszheim, a University of Maryland economist and economic adviser to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, said some of the June figures are misleading. "I think there are other indicators that show the Maryland labor market is not as weak as the [jobless] numbers would indicate," he said.

At the same time, "it's also clear that the economy doesn't have the momentum to increase employ ment significantly," said Mr. Straszheim, chairman of the economics department at the University of Maryland at College Park. He said the state should see modest job gains in the second half.

Although Maryland is still "in a lackluster economy," according to Sam Barone, dean of Towson State University's business school, a computer model that the school prepared last month predicts that "the second half is going to show some improvement."

Mr. Barone said that personal income in Maryland should grow by 5 percent in each of the next few years and that the manufacturing sector will expand at rates rising to 6.5 percent by the middle of 1995. Those are two of the factors that will drive employment gains, he said.

DEED officials pointed to some good news in their report: a 26,000-person increase in Maryland employment in June, to 2.42 million. At the same time, the labor force, defined as those either holding or seeking a job, expanded by nearly 50,000 people as new and temporary workers began looking for summer jobs.

On the other hand, figures provided by the Labor Department showed that seasonally adjusted employment was flat in June compared with May. And the number of people working was down sharply from a year ago.

The slow recovery and a cutback in federal programs have created fewer summer jobs, according to DEED, and in many cases have pitted young people against more experienced full-time workers.

Further, several colleges ended their spring semesters later than usual this year, dumping more students into the work force in June, rather than spread over both May and June, according to Pat Arnold, who heads DEED's Office of Labor Market Analysis and Information.

Officials at Towson State and the University of Maryland System said this year's final exams were no later than usual, but Mr. Arnold said that "soft but nonetheless strong evidence" indicates that the number of 16- to 19-year-olds entering the work force in June was unusually large this year.

Mr. Wasserman also pointed to a slight uptick in the length of the manufacturing workweek, to 41 hours, from 40.9 a year ago, an indication that employers are stretching their resources and may soon be ready to hire. But the workweek actually shrank since May, when it was 41.2 hours.

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