Md. lost jobs in Nov., but employment is up in year

Nearly 50,000 are gained vs. loss of 1,300 last month

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

Maryland lost 1,300 jobs in November, stretching out a bumpy patch that began when the local employment market screeched to a halt in August. But the unemployment rate remained steady at a low 3.9 percent, according to state numbers released yesterday.

Economists said there's no reason to be worried yet because strong growth in earlier months means that nearly 50,000 jobs have been created since November of last year - a more reliable measure of employment health than the monthly numbers, which are adjusted for seasonal variations.

In the past month, job losses in professional and business services as well as leisure and hospitality erased gains in several other sectors, including government. But over the past year, the professional and business services industry were engines of job growth in Maryland, along with construction and education and health services.

Maryland's employment growth rate was 2 percent over those 12 months, compared with 1.6 percent nationally.

"We're growing faster than the nation, which you really wouldn't expect ... because we didn't have a recession and the nation did," said Richard P. Clinch, director of economic research for the University of Baltimore's Jacob France Institute. "I think fundamentally the Maryland economy remains strong."

Maryland's unemployment rate didn't budge even though 4,600 more residents entered the labor force in November, when compared with October. Part of the explanation could be that those people found jobs out of state - in Washington, for instance, where employment is booming.

"We also see an influx in job seekers, and some of them from other states also," said James D. Fielder Jr., the state's secretary of labor.

Scott Hoyt, a senior economist at in West Chester, Pa., thinks job creation had to slow at some point because the state can't expect to see employment increases of 2 percent while its population is growing half as fast.

"Clearly it's totally unsustainable," he said. Recent job loss "could just be payback for that extremely fast growth."

The state enjoyed a run-up in job creation from January through July before losing 2,200 jobs in August, according to the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. Its surveys showed a gain of 100 jobs in September and 2,500 in October - better than initially estimated - before the November loss.

"There has been a slowdown, but right now it doesn't appear to be significant," said Sheila Watkins, commissioner of the Mid-Atlantic region for the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Kirsten A. Sauter isn't feeling it at all. She manages two Baltimore-area branches for staffing services provider Manpower Inc., seeing both employers with openings to fill and residents looking for work, and she said her offices are keeping busy.

"I have a ton of jobs," she said. "It's just a matter of getting qualified people."

A Manpower survey suggests that nearly half the companies in the Baltimore area expect to hire in the first three months of next year. Employers are telling the state labor department the same thing, saying their productivity gains are tapped out and they need more workers.

Sauter believes it.

"Manufacturing is picking up again," she said. "That means more people are buying, we're going to need more people working ... and everything spirals up."

Unemployment rates in the metropolitan region were mixed in November, according to the state's local numbers, which are not adjusted for seasonal variations.

Unemployment rose in Baltimore to 8.1 percent from 7.9 percent in October, and in Harford, to 3.7 percent from 3.5 percent. The rate dropped in Carroll to 2.4 percent from 2.5 percent. And it remained the same in Anne Arundel at 3.2 percent; Baltimore County at 4.2 percent; and Howard at 2.5 percent.

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