Md. jobless rate rose to 4.0% in Jan.

Expected rise since Dec. is blamed on seasonal layoffs

Record high employment

Economists expect effects of slowdown in next three months

March 03, 2001|By Paul Adams | Paul Adams,SUN STAFF

Expected seasonal layoffs pushed Maryland's unemployment rate up to 4.0 percent in January, but economists warned yesterday that the worst is yet to come.

Many expect the first signs of an economic slowdown to surface over the next three months as more companies close their doors or downsize in the face of slumping sales. That means the number of jobless will probably grow in Maryland.

"We really have not yet begun to see the impact of a lot of the layoffs in Maryland that have been announced but have yet to take place," said Anirban Basu, chief economist for RESI, the economic forecasting arm of Towson University.

For example, the closing of 16 Montgomery Ward stores statewide and a Sears store in Owings Mills will add nearly 3,000 to the list of unemployed. Another 300 workers will be out of work after the Wayne Division of Dresser Equipment Group closes a gas station fuel pump manufacturing plant in Salisbury by the end of April. The company announced the decision Thursday.

Even so, economists said, Maryland is better positioned than most states to weather a slump in the national economy, thanks in large part to a smaller reliance on manufacturing jobs, abundant government employment and relatively high household incomes throughout much of the state. And many expect employment to rebound in the second half of the year.

"It's a little bit of a slowdown," said Jeff Petry, who tracks Maryland's economy for Economy.com in West Chester, Pa. "But we expect Baltimore is not going to slow as much as the rest of the U.S."

The 4.0 percent unemployment rate was seventh-tenths of a percentage point higher than in December and put Maryland shy of the national seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate of 4.7 percent in January.

Despite the increase, the state's employment level remains at an all-time high for the month, said John P. O'Connor, secretary of the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, in a statement.

The number of people employed in January was 2.7 million, down about 33,930 from December. Layoffs are typical in January as retailers shed workers after the holidays and construction work slows in winter.

State officials say the retail industry outpaced other sectors of the state's economy in reducing staff. Business, agricultural and amusement services also downsized.

"There are simply too many retailers chasing too few dollars," Basu said. However, January's seasonal layoffs are in keeping with what has occurred in recent years, he said.

Unemployment in Baltimore City was 7.8 percent, up from 6.7 percent in December, but near the 7.9 percent recorded in January 2000. The Baltimore metropolitan area recorded unemployment of 4.3 percent, an increase of 0.6 percent from December but equal to January 2000.

Howard and Montgomery counties led the Baltimore-Washington metro areas with an unemployment rate of just 1.7 percent. They were followed by Charles County (2.4 percent), Anne Arundel (2.5 percent), Calvert (2.5 percent), Frederick (2.8 percent), Carroll (3.2 percent), Queen Anne's (3.6 percent), Harford (4.1 percent) and Baltimore (4.3 percent).

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