Maryland added 46,000 jobs in 1997, according to new, more-accurate data, growing at about the same rate as the country but lagging behind neighbors Delaware and Virginia.
With 2 percent employment growth from December to December, 1997 was Maryland's best year since 1994. That year, the economy spurted to recovery from earlier recession, growing by 47,000 jobs, or 2.2 percent. But the pace quickly faded as banks, federal agencies and defense contractors continued to cut jobs and spending.
This time, "I think we're going to see a continuation of the kind of growth we've had in '97," said Michael Funk, an economist who tracks Maryland for the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University. "It's going to be a good year. It's not going to look as dramatic as it did because we're not going to see any more accelerating growth."
Funk has forecast 2.2 percent job growth for 1998.
In contrast to four or five years ago, the federal government -- a key Maryland employer and customer -- is more solvent. And growth in the information-technology and computer-services businesses is helping to offset continuing mergers and downsizing in other industries, analysts said.
USF&G Corp.'s recent decision to be bought by the St. Paul Cos. is part of massive consolidation in the financial-services business that has wiped out tens of thousands of jobs in Maryland.
"What I like about Maryland's recovery is it seems to be very stable and very solid, moving along at a good momentum and not in danger of over-expanding," said Patrick Arnold, the state's director of labor market analysis.
The latest results are part of an annual, nationwide revision in which employment estimates are updated using precise payroll records. In previous years, the U.S. Labor Department under-measured the state's job growth and had to revise sharply upward.
For 1997, the revised numbers "just validate what we thought before," said Mark Vitner, an economist who follows the state for First Union in Charlotte, N.C. While Maryland has strengthened, he said, "It's certainly no stronger than the country as a whole."
National employment is growing in the 2 percent range.
Maryland trailed behind some neighboring states last year. Virginia added jobs at a 2.7 percent rate, according to the Labor Department. Delaware boomed at 3.7 percent; Pennsylvania grew by 2.0 percent, and West Virginia grew by 1.5 percent. North Carolina increased employment by 1.6 percent last year.
Nevada led all states with a 4.8 percent job growth.
By some measures, Maryland did even better than 2 percent last year. Average employment for all months of 1997 came to 2.26 million. That's 51,000 jobs, or 2.3 percent more than average employment for 1996.
Pub Date: 2/27/98