Jobless rate in Md. holds steady

Unemployment figures helped by creation of 9,500 positions in April

May 27, 2004|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Maryland maintained its enviable unemployment rate of 4 percent last month, helped in large part by the creation of 9,500 jobs.

At the same time, about 4,100 people joined the labor force, some of whom probably returned after dropping out in discouragement during the recession, economists speculated.

Employers in the state have added 22,800 jobs this year, a big improvement over the 2,100 lost during the first four months of last year, when the economy was in the doldrums, the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation said yesterday.

"There's good news in these numbers," said John Hopkins, associate director for applied economics at RESI, the research and consulting arm of Towson University.

Job creation wasn't quite as strong last month as in March, when employers added 10,800 positions.

The data are adjusted for seasonal variations, removing the large number of temporary springtime jobs. Maryland employers filled 26,700 new positions last month, but economists think adjusted numbers provide a truer picture of economic health.

Maryland had the 12th-lowest unemployment rate among the states last month. Nationwide, the rate was 5.6 percent.

A year ago, the state's rate was 4.5 percent.

"It's a very strong indication for the state's recovery," said James D. Fielder Jr., Maryland's secretary of labor. "When we hold job fairs, we [draw] quite a few out-of-state workers."

Peter Morici, a professor at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business, said it's good to see employment growing faster than the labor force. He expects that to extend the housing boom in the area, particularly in the Washington suburbs, where the unemployment rate last month was 2.9 percent.

"2004 should be a better year than 2003 for the state budget," Morici said. "This portends a more favorable revenue picture."

Unemployment rates ranged widely across the state, from Montgomery County's 2.1 percent to Worcester County's 8.7 percent. But Worcester, which depends heavily on tourism, reported a significant drop in its rate - from 12 percent in March - as Ocean City businesses geared up for the vacation season.

The state does not adjust local rates for seasonal variations.

The unemployment rate was 7.4 percent in Baltimore; 4 percent in Baltimore County; 3.7 percent in Harford; 3 percent in Anne Arundel; 2.5 percent in Carroll; and 2.4 percent in Howard.

Hopkins expects a strong local job market this year, which could prompt more of those who left the hunt in despair to try again.

"You're seeing a lot of creation within the federal government - and that's a result of defense-contracting, homeland-defense-related, security-related type jobs," he said. "You're seeing growth in service sectors. ... And we're also seeing a decline in the loss of manufacturing jobs."

From an employment perspective, Maryland is in the right place in a post-9/11 world, Morici agreed.

"It benefits from being close to Washington," he said.

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