State rides wave of jobs

Unemployment rate hit all-time low of 3.1% in November

`Recovery is robust'

Md. outperforms nation

Howard County has lowest jobless figure

January 08, 2000|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

With Howard County leading the way, Maryland's unemployment rate fell to an all-time low in November of 3.1 percent, the state's Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation said yesterday.

It was 0.2 percent below the figure for October, which tied the previous record low since 1978, when Maryland began keeping records. The figure was also a percentage point lower than the national rate.

In the 1980s, Maryland typically had unemployment rates that were 1 percentage point to 1.5 percentage points lower than the nation's. But during the last recession, in the early 1990s, that gap vanished, said Anirban Basu, senior economist with RESI, an economics and consulting institute at Towson University.

"Now we are approaching the disparity in unemployment that we enjoyed as a state during the 1980s," Basu said. "It is further evidence that Maryland's recovery is robust and that it will persist through the year 2000."

Unemployment was lowest in technology-rich Howard County, at 1.5 percent, while Somerset County, with 6.7 percent, had the highest rate.

Richard Story, chief executive of the Howard County Economic Development Authority, said several factors have helped the county's employment picture:

The national economy overall is doing well.

The county is well positioned near an airport and in between Baltimore and Washington.

It is widely regarded as business-friendly.

He said quality-of-life factors, such as good schools and a low crime rate, also attract businesses and educated residents.

"Where do I want to play golf and have the kids go to school? It's a win for Howard County more often than not," Story said.

He said 33 percent of the county's residents commute to Washington, 31 percent work in the Baltimore area and 36 percent have jobs in the county.

The Baltimore region had an unemployment rate of 3.5 percent. Anne Arundel County's rate was 2.5 percent, Baltimore County was at 3.3 percent, Carroll's was 1.9 percent, and Harford had 2.4 percent.

Overall, the state had 2.7 million workers and 88,000 unemployed people. The November rate was down from 3.3 percent in October and 4 percent in November 1998.

Baltimore City traditionally has higher unemployment than the surrounding counties, and that continued to be true in November. The city, which is losing about 12,000 residents a year to the suburbs, had an unemployment rate of 6.4 percent, but that represented a large drop from the 7.9 percent reported in November 1998.

"Some of that progress is somewhat deceptive because when you have people moving out of the city, you have a smaller labor force and unemployment will go down," Basu said.

But he added that the tourism, biotechnology and construction sectors are growing and creating jobs in the city.

"I think the city is ready to embark on a five-to-10-year period of rebirth and growth," he said. "Things are gradually getting better in the city and there's a new administration with a lot of energy, and I think that will help."

Patrick Arnold, the state's director of labor market analysis and information, said Maryland's numbers reflect the nation's healthy economy.

"You hear lots of stories about employers who can't find enough qualified workers, although I don't think they always describe legitimate cases because sometimes they don't offer high enough wages, but the problem does exist," he said.

"That just keeps squeezing workers into the work force. Sometimes it means lowering standards, but it also puts a very large percentage of people to work. If it goes on long enough, it sets records."

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