Spring hiring adds 25,800 Maryland jobs

Rolls of unemployed down 10,700 last month

April 23, 2004|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Maryland businesses added 25,800 jobs last month, the best performance in a year as companies kicked into spring hiring. It was a big improvement over the 70,000 jobs lost in dreary January.

The number of unemployed in Maryland declined by 10,700 in response, according to numbers released yesterday by the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

The state's jobless rate dropped from 4.4 percent in February to 4 percent in March, reflecting strong seasonal hiring. Unemployment stood at 6 percent nationwide that month. The numbers are not seasonally adjusted.

"Companies are much more bullish," said Joe McDermott, president of Keepers, an employment services company in Annapolis. "They're out actively recruiting now."

Usually, the first quarter is weak for McDermott's industry, but Keepers placed 40 percent more people in permanent jobs than in the booming fourth quarter.

About 2.8 million Marylanders were employed in March, up 13,500.

Unemployment in the Baltimore region - unadjusted for seasonal variations - dropped to 4.5 percent last month from 4.9 percent.

The rates were 7.7 percent in the city, 3.3 percent in Anne Arundel, 4.3 percent in Baltimore County, 3.2 percent in Carroll, 4 percent in Harford, 2.5 percent in Howard and 3.5 percent in Queen Anne's.

Montgomery, at 2.2 percent, posted the lowest unemployment rate. Worcester, an Eastern Shore county with a heavy summer tourism industry, reported 12 percent unemployment, down from 13.7 percent in February.

"You've gotten rid of the holiday shock, and spring is obviously coming through," said Daraius Irani, director of applied economics at RESI, the research and consulting arm of Towson University.

"It points to a trend in hiring and job creation that heretofore we haven't quite seen, and we've been anxiously waiting for this to occur."

Last month was the second in a row with positive job numbers. More than 10,000 were added in February.

March is traditionally a strong month for Maryland because warmer weather benefits construction companies and the leisure and hospitality industry, both of which gained employment.

"The minute the weather turns, you start to see upturn," said Mary Jo Yeisley, an administrator in the state's labor market information program. "Hopefully, this will start a string of reinforced growth."

Job creation over the past year averaged a little more than 2,000 positions a month.

The last time 25,800 jobs were added in Maryland was in March of last year, though hiring was nearly as strong in April and May.

Still, it can't compare to March in 2000, the most recent boom year, when Maryland employers created 41,200 new jobs.

Irani said it's not clear that the state is "completely out of the woods" yet. Its growth last month was 1 percent compared with the previous month or March of last year. Generally, 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent is considered fairly strong job growth, he said.

McDermott, the Keepers president, is optimistic about the near future because more companies say they're planning to hire and more are hiring human resources workers, which he sees as an indicator of overall employment gains.

Businesses cut back on human resources staffs and recruiters when the recession hit, he said.

"Head count's getting more attention," McDermott said.

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