Jobless rate a record low 3% in March

Service sector adds workers, helping drive improvement

`Doing great overall'

Howard County ties for lowest at 1.4%

Worcester highest

Maryland employment

May 06, 2000|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

New jobs in the service sector helped drive Maryland's unemployment rate to 3 percent in March, an all-time low for the month, the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation said yesterday.

The state beat the nationwide March average of 4.1 percent, and was down from 3.8 percent in March 1999.

Almost a third of the state's job gains came from expansions in the service industry, especially in business, agriculture, education and recreation. Retail also was strong, with much of the growth centered on restaurants and building-and-garden supply stores.

"Maryland is doing great overall," said Richard Clinch, program manager of the Maryland Business Research Partnership, part of the University of Baltimore, noting the state has many attributes businesses seek. "We have the third-best educated work force in the county, one of the most productive, and we have more infrastructure - technology and roads - than many competitor states."

Unemployment in the Baltimore metropolitan area for March was 3.4 percent, compared to 3.8 percent in February and 4.1 percent in March 1999. Howard and Montgomery counties tied for state's lowest rate at 1.4 percent.

Worcester County on the Eastern Shore had the state's highest number at 12.1 percent, although that was a drop from February's 15.8 percent.

Anne Arundel County came in at 2.2 percent; Baltimore County at 3.2 percent; Carroll County at 2.4 percent; and Harford County at 1.4 percent.

Baltimore had the highest number in the region at 6.1 percent.

Unemployment tends to be concentrated in urban areas, Clinch said, because cities often have a higher number of drug users, welfare recipients and former convicts who have difficulty finding work.

Many lower-skilled job seekers also live in the city, he said, while many of the jobs they are qualified for are in the suburbs. And, according to a recent study, one-third of those suburban jobs are inaccessible by mass transit.

"And even the two-thirds of jobs that are accessible, the way the routes are structured they are oriented to bringing people into the city," he said.

Clinch also noted that the unemployment figures don't reflect the real number of people without work. Instead, by way of a survey, they show the number of people who are looking for a job but haven't found one. "It understates the true level," he said.

Patrick Arnold, the state's director of labor market analysis and information, said the figures don't represent all adults who aren't working, but the numbers reflect what's going on in the labor market. "I think this signals the ease with which people who want to work can work," Arnold said.

He said it's not just the March number that is impressive, but the trend it represents.

"Maryland came out of the last recession pretty slowly, and it's only been about the last three years or so that the labor force statistics have been looking pretty good," he said.

The state's unemployment rate reached 6.7 percent in 1992 and, except for a slight bump in 1997, has since slowly declined.

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