Maryland jobless rate rises to 4.2%

Slight increase in Nov. runs counter to U.S. trend

January 06, 2004|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Maryland's unemployment rate inched up in November even as the nation's employment picture improved. State officials attributed the bulk of the setback to seasonal downsizing and weather-related slowdowns.

Layoffs and slowdowns in fair-weather industries such as construction helped raise the state's unemployment rate to 4.2 percent, compared with 4.1 percent the previous month, seasonally adjusted. The national unemployment rate -- also adjusted -- was 5.9 percent, down from 6 percent.

About 120,700 Marylanders were out of work, 3,700 more than in October.

But 2.8 million people had jobs, the highest figure for that month since records were first kept in 1978, according to household survey numbers released by the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation last week.

Nearly 20,000 more residents were employed than in November 2002, when the previous record was set.

Hiring by retailers, restaurants, clothing stores and groceries anticipating a holiday rush helped push employment beyond its level last year, the state reported.

Compared with the previous November, "we're still continuing in a slow growth mode while the U.S. is still in a recovery mode," said James D. Fielder Jr., the state's secretary of labor.

Edward B. Montgomery, a former deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Labor who is now a dean at the University of Maryland, agreed that the state is doing better than the nation but warned that it is hardly in a hiring boom.

"Employment is still very sluggish," Montgomery said. "It may be that the worst is over, but I think it would be premature to say that employment is really picking up in our region."

Non-seasonally-adjusted job data by jurisdiction showed Worcester County with the highest unemployment rate in November, 11.3 percent -- typical for an area heavy on summer jobs because of Ocean City.

Montgomery County, with 2.4 percent, had the lowest unemployment rate.

City's rate was 8.2%

Baltimore posted an 8.2 percent rate, but its suburbs fared much better: 2.5 percent in Howard, 2.8 percent in Carroll, 3.3 percent in Anne Arundel, 3.8 percent in Harford and 4.6 percent in Baltimore County.

Dave Mayer, president of ALLINES Placement Firm in Baltimore, saw a surge in retail hiring in November, much better than in the previous few years.

He said the employment picture looks promising this year -- at least for temporary work. His firm has more than twice as many people placed in temporary jobs compared with this time last year.

"Typically the end of every year clients say, `Oh, we're going to downsize' -- I didn't have one client say that," Mayer noted.

"They all said the opposite, that they're going to be increasing staff. ... Everything's picked up so the work is going to be there. What we anticipate is they're going to hire people temporary-to-permanent."

Joe McDermott, president of Keepers, a career placement company headquartered in Annapolis, said October and November were flat but requests for temporary workers in December picked up nicely.

Renewed interest

People who had given up on job searches are trying again, he said, and he's expecting a strong year.

"I wouldn't call it a boom but I would definitely call it real nice steady growth now -- where in the past, we kept hearing `the recession's over' but nothing seemed to be happening," he said.

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