Still Bumping along the Bottom

September 05, 1993

In case you haven't noticed, Maryland continues to feel the effects of the recession. Waiting for the recovery seems to be like waiting for Godot: It seems enticingly near, but it never gets here. We're still bumping along the bottom, economy-wise.

Figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that Maryland has lost more jobs on a percentage basis since last summer (3.3 percent) than any other state except Maine. But Maryland's troubles extend back a few more years. The journal State Policy Reports ranks states by means of an "index of economic momentum," measuring changes in population, employment and personal income. Maryland placed an embarrassing 44th in June 1992; it dropped to 46th this past summer.

Just in the last 12 months ending in June, this state lost 80,000 jobs, many of them in the defense and construction industries. And there may be more bad news ahead. Federal cutbacks in defense-related industries may accelerate as the downsizing of the military continues. Meanwhile, Maryland's glut of see-through office buildings assures that commercial construction will be in recession for at least several more years.

vTC Additionally, retail sales -- a key indicator of consumer confidence -- were disappointing for most apparel stores nationwide in August. A plunge in comparable-store sales at Merry-Go-Round Enterprises (off 16 percent) was especially worrisome since its headquarters are in Joppa. People are leery about their financial well-being and are holding back on any big shopping binges.

Still, there are some positive signs locally: a slight rise in personal income; a small improvement in Maryland's July unemployment rate; a modest job growth; a small rise in the average work week (often a precursor of job-expansion), and a rise in businesses' hiring expectations. Even state government managed to eke out a slim $10 million surplus in the fiscal year ending June 30.

More encouraging is the fact that most companies have slimmed down during the recession and are poised to reap the benefits once the recovery finally gets under way. State economists are still predicting that personal income and growth in the manufacturing sector are on course to grow by 5 or 6 percent over the next two years. But first we may have to go through another six months or more of bottom-bumping. This is turning out to be one slow recovery in Maryland.

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