Md. jobless rate at 3.9% in Sept.

Hiring picks up, with 33,800 jobs added

October 20, 2007|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,Sun reporter

Unemployment rose to 3.9 percent in Maryland last month, the Labor Department said yesterday.

The increase from 3.7 percent in August was driven by an influx of people entering the work force, some of whom couldn't find a job, according to government numbers adjusted for seasonal variations.

At the same time, Employers picked up the pace of hiring, adding 33,800 jobs since September 2006. That's the best 12-month performance so far this year, the preliminary numbers suggest. Still, economists caution that the housing downturn and credit crunch are weighing on the state and could weigh more heavily in coming months.

"I think things are really slowing," said Charles W. McMillion, president and chief economist of MBG Information Services in Washington.

The seasonally adjusted statistics showed a 4,400-job drop last month compared with August, but that appeared to be one of the regular statistical hiccups caused by the government's problem accounting for normal shifts in government-sector employment, which rises and falls based on such factors as whether school is in session.

Maryland's unemployment picture last month remained better than the nation's, which reflected a jobless rate of 4.7 percent. Job growth was also a bit faster in the state than the country.

Robert Dye, a senior economist with PNC Financial Services Group who follows the local economy, was encouraged to see that. But like McMillion, he warns that the housing market might be a bigger drag on economic growth in the near future.

The state could soon be in a tug-of-war between two competing forces, he added: the downturn in home sales - which is bad for homebuilders, mortgage lenders and a variety of other companies - and the upward force of the military base realignment.

The Baltimore area is expected to get thousands of government, contractor and related jobs between now and 2011, Dye said.

"Maryland is very much in the middle of a huge transition right now," he said. "In that transition zone, we're going to see volatile numbers."

Unemployment could rise over the next year if the base realignment and closure process - known as BRAC - doesn't kick in until later, Dye said.

So far, though, joblessness is low. Linda Burton, managing partner with Management Recruiters of Baltimore-Timonium, said her office is having its strongest year yet because so many companies are hiring - and need help finding people.

"There are clearly more jobs than there are people right now, as it applies to white collar," said Burton, who places office administrators as well as managers in the accounting and finance fields in local jobs.

Companies in a cross-section of industries, from health care to manufacturing, are looking for such workers, she said. The exceptions are mortgage and title companies, which have been buffeted by the housing downturn.

She is seeing people coming to her who still have jobs in those industries but fear they won't for long.

"They're probably a little bit ahead of the curve," said Burton, who hired two of them herself. "We're going to see a correction there - I don't think we have seen it yet, but we're going to see it."

The financial activities sector, which includes lending, eked out a 700-job gain in Maryland over the past 12 months. Construction, which includes commercial as well as residential, added 4,200 jobs, about half the growth of the housing boom years of 2004 and 2005.

Manufacturing continued its downward employment trend, shedding 2,000 jobs.

Professional and business services, one of the state's reliable sectors, added nearly 10,000 jobs in the past 12 months. The education and health services sector created 7,100 jobs, while leisure and hospitality added 7,000.

jamie.smith.hopkins @baltsun.com

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