State jobless rate declines

Nov. drop is the first since May, reflecting hiring for holidays

`Economy remains strong'

January 05, 2002|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

Maryland's unemployment rate declined in November for the first time since spring as businesses hired temporary help for the holiday season, the state labor department announced yesterday.

The state's unemployment rate in November was 4.3 percent, down from October's 4.4 percent. The national rate in November was 5.6 percent.

The state said November hiring was much slower than in previous years. And job gains were in the retail sector.

Maryland's unemployment rate in November 2000 was 3.8 percent.

The drop was the first for Maryland since unemployment in the state began increasing in May.

But analysts said the numbers, released by the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, don't necessarily reflect an economic recovery. The numbers could increase again in December and January as the temporary workers lose their jobs.

"As businesses gear up for the holiday season, they generally take on more help, but they also eventually let go of those workers," said John Hopkins, a research economist at Towson University's RESI research and consulting unit.

Despite anticipated unemployment increases, analysts and state officials expect Maryland's economy to remain stronger than the rest of the nation.

"We have been optimistic and pleased that the economy remains strong and continues to surpass the national level," said a labor department spokesman, Marco K. Merrick. "We expect that trend to continue."

Maryland has been largely shielded from the recession because its manufacturing base is smaller than the rest of the nation, said Richard P. Clinch, program manager for the University of Baltimore's Jacob France Center, which researches state and local economic issues.

About 7 percent of the state's economy is manufacturing-based, compared with 14 percent nationwide.

"What has been hit nationally is not really prevalent in Maryland," Clinch said. "This has been a manufacturing-led economic downturn."

Clinch also said unemployment rates below 5 percent generally indicate a strong economy. Economists expect Maryland to remain below that rate throughout the recession, which many experts predict will last until mid-year.

In the Baltimore area, Carroll County led the way with a 2.6 unemployment rate, followed by Howard County at 2.9 percent; Harford County, 3.6 percent; Anne Arundel County, 3.7 percent; Baltimore County, 4.5 percent; and Baltimore, 7.9 percent.

The lowest unemployment rate in the state was in Calvert County, at 2.4 percent; the highest rate was Worcester County's 13.7 percent.

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