State unemployment hits 4.6%

Rate is down from 2002, and below U.S. average

April 23, 2003|By William Patalon III | William Patalon III,SUN STAFF

Maryland's unemployment rate edged up to 4.6 percent in February, said a state government report released yesterday. But Maryland's jobless rate is lower than it was a year ago, and is still below the U.S. average, underscoring the state's improving economic health, an expert said.

"Maryland is fairly lucky to be in the situation that it's in, given the position of the national economy, which remains very weak," said Pradeep Ganguly, chief economist for the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. "What this tells me is that Maryland's economy has probably stabilized.

Maryland's unemployment rate increased from 4.5 percent in January to 4.6 percent in February. It was 4.8 percent in February 2002.

The U.S. unemployment rate declined to 6.4 percent in February from 6.5 percent in January. But both those figures were well above the 6.1 percent rate of February 2002, according to the report by the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

Ganguly said the uptick in the state jobless rate is typical for February, and that this year's increase was exacerbated by severe winter weather. There were more new job-seekers than there were new jobs, which accounted for part of the increase, the report said.

Although the number of unemployed workers rose by nearly 4,000 to 134,400 in February, that was still about 3,000 less than the number of Marylanders without jobs in February 2002, the state report said.

The highest unemployment rate in any Maryland county was 14.1 percent in Worcester County, although that was down from 14.7 percent in January and 16 percent in February 2002. Seasonal layoffs in the trade, leisure and hospitality sectors - made worse by the weather and economic uncertainty - continued to hamper the employment outlook in such counties as Worcester and Dorchester, where the jobless rate stood at 11.4 percent in February, experts said.

The Baltimore metropolitan region saw unemployment increase from 4.9 percent in January to 5.0 percent in February, although even that figure was below the 5.2 percent rate of February 2002, according to the report.

Baltimore city's jobless rate dropped from 8.1 percent in January to 8.0 percent in February. Carroll (3.9 percent), Harford (5.0 percent) and Howard (2.7 percent) all saw their unemployment rates remain steady. Anne Arundel County's jobless rate rose to 3.6 percent from 3.5 percent in January.

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