State's jobless rate fell to 5.5% in Nov. as job base expanded

January 08, 1994|By John E. Woodruff | John E. Woodruff,Staff Writer

Maryland's unemployment rate fell below 6 percent for the first time in more than two years in November, defying the usual late-autumn increase and suggesting that the state's economy is recovering far more powerfully than previously realized.

"These figures indicate that there was probably much more rapid growth in the latter half of 1993 than we had previously understood," said Mahlon Straszheim, the University of Maryland professor who is Gov. William Donald Schaefer's chief economic adviser.

Reported yesterday by the state Department of Economic and Employment Development, the newest figures show that Maryland's unemployment rate dropped to 5.5 percent in November from 6.0 percent in October.

"It really looks very, very good -- this is an enormous drop in unemployment and a big change in the jobs picture," said Charles McMillion, president of Washington-based MBG Information Services and long the leading bear on Maryland's economic prospects. "It's so nice to be able to say good things about the Maryland economy for a change, after playing the heavy for five years," he added.

Best of all, Mr. McMillion said, is that the big drop in unemployment seems to be caused mainly by a growing number of jobs, rather thanby people getting discouraged and dropping out of the job market.

Looking at U.S. figures for Maryland, which are seasonally adjusted while DEED's are not, Mr. McMillion said employment in Maryland grew by 13,600 jobs in November, while no more than 7,000 persons dropped out of the labor force.

The improvement was felt even in hard-hit Baltimore, where the unemployment rate dropped 0.8 percentage point, to 9.6 percent, the first time it has been below double digits in seven months.

Only four counties, Dorchester, Somerset, Talbot and Worcester, all on the Eastern Shore, showed increases in unemployment from October to November.

In the major regions listed by DEED, unemployment declined to 6.3 percent from 7.0 percent in the Baltimore metropolitan area; to 3.9 percent from 4.4 percent in the Washington suburbs, and to 7.6 percent from 8.2 percent in Western Maryland.

is common for the unemployment rate to rise between October and November, so here we have evidence that Maryland's recovery now has enough power to overcome seasonal trends, and that is very, very good news for everyone with a stake in this state's economy," said Mark L. Wasserman, who heads DEED as secretary of economic development.

"We have been looking for a long time to see three consecutive months of increases in employment, and with these November figures we now have it," Mr. Wasserman added.

"I also want to emphasize, though, that Maryland still faces some daunting challenges," Mr. Wasserman said. "The restructuring of the economy, especially in manufacturing, will go on, and the downsizing of the defense sector also will be a continuing reality."

Maryland's job rolls grew by more than 12,800 in November, to 2,495,937, an all-time November high and the fourth-highest monthly employment total ever.

"The best evidence of how much more is going on than we had understood is in the household survey of how many people had '' jobs in November," Mr. Straszheim said. That survey, released ,, yesterday along with the monthly unemployment rate, showed that 2.2 percent more people had jobs last November than in November a year earlier.

That 2.2 percent figure, though it compares only a single month with the year-earlier month and thus is not conclusive, substantially outpaces any economist's estimate of 1993 job growth for Maryland.

The improvement also appears to have been unexpectedly broad-based, Mr. McMillion said.

While many of the new jobs were added by retail firms staffing up for Christmas, nondefense government sectors, manufacturing and several other long-lagging employment categories also contributed to the improvement, he said.

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