State's jobs picture glows

Unemployment fell to 3.9% in July, lowest for the month since '70

Md. economy

September 04, 1999|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

Strong growth in construction, real estate and the service sector pushed Maryland's unemployment rate down to 3.9 percent in July -- that month's lowest rate since 1970.

Maryland fared better than the nation as a whole, where the unemployment rate was unchanged in July at 4.5 percent, according to the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

Because the number of people seeking seasonal work generally rises in the summer and can drive up the unemployment level, the low July figures "suggest that demand for seasonal summertime workers is at an almost unprecedented level in Maryland," said Anirban Basu, senior economist with the Regional Economic Studies Institute, a research institute at Towson University.

"That is driven in large measure by rampant consumerism and a growing tourism sector. Also, there is a tremendous amount commercial construction activity, and, indeed, residential construction remained active through July, although August numbers may show that residential construction activity may be on the wane," he added. Both the labor force and employment reached all-time highs in July. Overall, nearly 40,000 Marylanders found jobs in July, pushing the monthly employment level to 2.8 million. The number of unemployed people fell to 111,474 from 114,053.

In addition to real estate and construction, the labor department said, the service sectors that saw the most growth were hotels, business services, amusement, membership organizations and engineering-and-management firms. "At some point, we expect this will end and we will see the economy slip into a recession," said Mark Vitner, an economist at First Union National Bank in Charlotte, N.C., who studies Maryland. "But I don't see anything on the horizon that says that sometime is around the corner."

Unemployment was lowest in Montgomery County at 2 percent, and highest in Baltimore City at 7.9 percent, down from 8.3 percent in June.

"It's still high in many of the nation's urban cities; those areas have not attracted as many of the high-growth industries that the suburbs have," Vitner said.

"If you look at what's growing fastest, it's data processing and computer programming, and high-tech companies tend to want to locate in the suburbs where they can have a campus site, not in inner cities."

Harford County had the highest rise in unemployment in the region -- to 4.5 percent in July from from 3.4 percent the previous month.

The Baltimore metropolitan region saw its rate drop in July to 4.5 percent from 4.6 percent in June. In the counties the July unemployment rates were: Anne Arundel County, 3.2 percent; Baltimore, 4 percent; Carroll, 2.9 percent; and Howard, 2.3 percent.

Pub Date: 9/04/99

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