Md. jobless rate edges up to 4.3%

2nd monthly rise occurs as people seeking work outpace available jobs

April 23, 2005|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Maryland's unemployment rate edged upward for the second month in a row as the size of the labor force grew faster than the number of jobs, the U.S. Labor Department said yesterday.

The jobless rate rose to 4.3 percent in March from 4.2 percent in February. Businesses created about 2,700 jobs, adjusted for seasonal variations - an effort by economists to take out typical dips and peaks.

An extra 3,500 residents began searching for work last month, which is why unemployment rose.

However, the Labor Department more than doubled its job-growth estimate for February, saying that businesses hired 4,300 that month.

"The numbers aren't spectacular, but they're healthy nonetheless for total job growth," said John Hopkins, associate director for applied economics at RESI, Towson University's research and consulting arm.

The state has 41,800 more jobs now than it did a year ago, an increase of about 1.7 percent - a growth rate that's a bit better than the nation as a whole.

"Overall, it's not particularly good news," said Edward Montgomery, dean of behavioral sciences at the University of Maryland and a former deputy secretary at the Labor Department. "It's certainly encouraging that we're doing slightly better than the national [average], but given that the nation as a whole has had weak growth, it's nothing to cheer about."

The high price of oil, rising interest rates and concern about the trade deficit are dampening U.S. companies' desire to hire, he said. "I think it's the uncertainty that has probably had more drag rather than the reality," he said.

Most Maryland employers, at least, seem to take a positive view. More than 60 percent plan to add jobs this year, according to a survey by the University of Baltimore's Jacob France Institute that was released this week.

RESI has predicted that Maryland businesses will create about 53,000 jobs in 2005, though Hopkins said that the increasingly mixed economic conditions nationally may keep the state from hitting that mark.

The state's unemployment rate of 4.3 percent remains well below the nation's, which sat at 5.2 percent last month. Montgomery said the recent increases aren't troubling yet because the rate is also relatively low by historical standards.

Maryland's largest job gains last month came in professional and business services, which added 2,300 positions; leisure and hospitality, which added 1,400; and education and health services, which added 800.

Sectors with falling employment were the trade, transportation and utilities industries, which cut 400 jobs; financial activities, down 300; and manufacturing, which also fell by 300.

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