Maryland jobless rate rises to 4.4% as August brought loss of 9,200 jobs

Federal report shows big drop in professional and business services

September 17, 2005|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Unemployment in Maryland ticked up last month as the state lost 9,200 jobs, the U.S. Labor Department said yesterday, though it added that it does not believe the number reflects a reduction in year-round work.

The jobless rate rose to 4.4 percent last month from 4.3 percent in July, adjusted for seasonal variations.

Gerald Perrins, a regional economist for the department's Bureau of Labor Statistics, said local fluctuation in jobs between July and August is generally related to public education. If summer school finishes in July, bus drivers and others aren't counted in August.

However, the numbers suggest that the largest loss - 3,400 jobs - was in the usually reliable growth sector of professional and business services, not government.

The Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation notes that the data are preliminary, and it expects they will need adjustment. Its records of mass layoffs show 525 jobs cut last month.

"That obviously doesn't account for 9,000," said Liz Williams, a spokeswoman for the state labor department.

If the numbers are accurate, it would be the state's worst month for employment since February 2003, when the nation was still in the doldrums after the 2001 recession.

Even so, Maryland is 44,700 jobs above its level for the previous August, a 1.8 percent annual growth rate. The nation's work force grew at a 1.7 percent rate.

"It's still slightly above average, which is pretty good for a mature Northeastern state," said Rakesh Shankar, the Maryland economist for research firm Economy.com.

He said he's "a little baffled" by the job numbers; he sees no reason why professional and business services should have declined so markedly. "I want to look at the next month's data to see if this is a trend," he said.

But Shankar isn't changing his forecast for the state - he still expects local employers will have added 52,000 jobs by year's end.

Maryland's 4.4 percent jobless rate is better than the nation's, which sits at 4.9 percent. But the nation's rate has been dropping in recent months while the state's has risen.

The sectors that performed best over the past 12 months in Maryland are professional and business services, up 15,400 jobs; leisure and hospitality, which gained 13,800; and education and health services, up 8,100.

At the same time, manufacturing shed 5,200 jobs and government trimmed 1,100, according to the Labor Department.

Earlier last week, employment services firm Manpower Inc. released a survey suggesting that Baltimore, Annapolis and Hagerstown will see some of the best growth among job markets nationwide during the last three months of the year.

A net 41 percent of employers in Baltimore plan to add jobs, compared with 21 percent nationwide, Manpower said. In Annapolis, a net 43 percent of employers expect to add jobs - and Hagerstown's 47 percent placed it in the top 20 nationally.

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