Jobless rate inches up to 5.1% in Md.

Record number of people sought work in March

Slow improvement expected

State's unemployment well below national rate

May 04, 2002|By Eileen Ambrose | Eileen Ambrose,SUN STAFF

Although the number of Marylanders working reached an all-time high in March, a record number of job-seekers pushed the state's unemployment rate up slightly for the month, the state labor department reported yesterday.

The state's unemployment rate rose to 5.1 percent in March from 5 percent the month before. The numbers are not seasonally adjusted to take into account temporary gains and losses in jobs because of weather or holidays.

The national unemployment rate for March was 6.1 percent, but 5.7 percent if seasonally adjusted.

"The good news here is that the increase in the unemployment rate is relatively modest ... and a full percentage point below the national average," said Richard Clinch, director of economic research at the the University of Baltimore's Jacob France Institute.

Clinch said he expects Maryland's employment picture to improve slowly but that he doesn't expect the kind of job growth that occurred in the late 1990s for another year or two because of the national economy.

"The national recovery is on pace, but nothing is giving it the gas," he said.

In March, more than 21,300 job-seekers entered Maryland's labor market, most of them finding work, according to the state. That pushed the state's labor force to more than 2.9 million for the first time since the state began keeping records in 1978.

The number of employed workers reached a record 2.756 million in March, up from 2.737 million in February.

The rising number of job-seekers could result from students looking for jobs or from people who gave up a job search during last year's recession and have renewed their efforts now that the economy is recovering, said Anirban Basu, director of applied economics at RESI, the consulting arm of Towson University.

Basu said that even though a recovery has begun and the economy grew 5.8 percent in the first quarter, "it doesn't mean the labor market recovered."

He said he looks at seasonably adjusted numbers, which put Maryland's unemployment rate at 5.2 percent in March.

"Unemployment is on an upward trend in Maryland and in the nation. It will remain an upward trend as we go into the summer months. That's bad news for college graduates," Basu said. "They are entering the equivalent of a labor market buzz saw."

He predicts that Maryland's unemployment rate might reach about 5.5 percent, then improve in the third or fourth quarter.

The strongest job markets in the state were in Howard and Montgomery counties, each of which reported an unemployment rate of 3.1 percent in March.

The jobless rate was 3.5 percent in Carroll County, 4.2 percent in Anne Arundel, 4.8 percent in Harford County, 5.4 percent in Baltimore County and 9.2 percent in Baltimore.

Worcester County's 13.7 percent rate was the state's highest.

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