State's recovery began early in year

December 24, 1993|By John E. Woodruff | John E. Woodruff,Staff Writer

Maryland's recession-racked economy began to regain jobs as early as the first quarter of this year, more than half a year sooner than has been generally thought, according to the year's first hard statewide jobs figures.

The new data challenge the widespread impression that Maryland was still mired in recession as late as August or September.

Nonetheless, the data show that the state's recovery significantly lagged that of the rest of the country. And they suggest that for many Marylanders, making a living will be a struggle even amid recovery.

They show, for example, that even among those who have jobs, the average Maryland worker earned $5 a week less in the first quarter of this year than in the same period of 1992.

The new figures make clear that this slippage of just under 1 percent in weekly paychecks, from $509 in 1992 to $504 in 1993, is the direct result of the nation's and the state's shift away from relatively well-paying manufacturing and professional jobs and into relatively low-paid work in the service sector.

Economists who track the state say the new employment numbers agree with their own growing sense that Maryland's business cycle may have bottomed out, almost unnoticed, much earlier than anyone had believed.

"We have suspected for some time that the state might have begun to recover earlier than anyone knew," said Michael A. Funk, deputy director of regional economic studies for the University of Baltimore.

"Our Maryland index of leading economic indicators turned strongly upward in the second half of 1992, and it made another strong move in the first half of this year," he said. "We have been waiting for some time to see hard evidence that the economy is responding to the improving conditions."

"It appears that there were first stirrings of recovery as early as the first quarter of this year," said Mark L. Wasserman, secretary of the state's Department of Economic and Employment Development.

"It's still a somewhat incomplete picture, but what's even more encouraging is that other signs and indicators, which reflect conditions later in the year, lead us to believe that the pace is still picking up and will pick up further in the new year," Mr. Wasserman said.

The new figures record the jobs of people covered by unemployment compensation insurance.

They show that an average of 2,018,372 Marylanders had covered jobs in the first quarter of 1993, or 13,363 more than in the same quarter the previous year. That increase of about two-thirds of 1 percent was the first gain since the recession began in 1990.

Economists believe that the Maryland economy continued to gather strength, although slowly, through the rest of 1993.

"The great strength of these figures is that they are based on mandatory reports by employers, required by the unemployment-compensation laws," Mr. Funk said. "So there is no surveying or estimating going on here, which makes the figures pretty reliable."

The chief weakness is that they include only workers covered by unemployment-compensation insurance, so they leave out some substantial job categories, such as contract workers and temporary employment agencies, he said.

Comprehensive figures won't come until next April or May, when the employment surveys for 1993 are updated with figures on newly established employers that were not in business when the survey was prepared in January.

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