Maryland jobless rate dips to 4.9%

Feb. improvement may be temporary, economists warn

April 06, 2002|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

Maryland's unemployment rate decreased slightly in February, but economists cautioned that the improvement could be temporary.

The state's unemployment rate was 4.9 percent for the month, down from 5.1 percent in January, state officials reported yesterday.

After factoring out seasonal adjustments - such as the return of university workers and other seasonal employees - the state's unemployment rate decreased from 4.7 percent in January to 4.5 percent.

The national unemployment rate in February was 5.5 percent.

Economists say the seasonal number is often a better indicator of employment trends because it factors in jobs that may fluctuate depending on the time of year.

State labor officials noted that Maryland continues to outperform the rest of the nation and said they hope unemployment rates improve in the spring and summer months, when more jobs typically are created.

"We are optimistic about the fact that we have a level that is lower than the national unemployment rate," said Marco K. Merrick, a spokesman for the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

"The other thing that we are hopeful for is that, as we move closer to spring and summer, the job market will improve," Merrick said. "There are certain segments of the labor pool that basically buoy up for the season."

But some economists say they expect the job market to worsen as Maryland and the rest of the nation pull out of recession.

When the country came out of the recession the first quarter of 1991, it took five more quarters before companies started hiring again, said local economist Anirban Basu.

"Maryland had a good month, but we shouldn't let that lure us into a false sense of security," said Basu, director of applied economics for Towson University's RESI research institute.

"In any economic recovery, and we are clearly in one now, the employment sector is a lagging economic factor," the economist explained. "It lags several months or even several quarters."

Basu said the mild weather probably created more construction activity, which contributed to February's unemployment drop.

In the Baltimore area, Howard County led the way with a 3 percent unemployment rate, followed by Carroll County at 4 percent; Anne Arundel, 4.1 percent; Baltimore County, 5 percent; Harford County, 5 percent; and Baltimore City, 8.5 percent.

Calvert County matched Howard for the lowest unemployment rate in the state at 3 percent; the highest rate was Worcester County's 16.7 percent.

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