Md. jobless rate falls

3.7% level is down from 4% in Oct.

employers add 9,200 jobs

December 22, 2007|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,Sun reporter

Maryland's slowing job market seemed to pick up considerable speed last month, though economists warned that it's too soon to tell whether it's a blip or a trend.

The unemployment rate, which was 4 percent in October, fell to 3.7 percent last month, the Labor Department said yesterday. The number of workers rose to about 2.9 million, while the ranks of the unemployed thinned significantly.

Employers added 9,200 jobs, according to the government's preliminary estimate, which is adjusted to account for seasonal patterns in hiring and firing.

The estimates are frequently revised, sometimes significantly, said Robert A. Dye, senior economist with PNC Financial Services Group. But at least for now, Maryland's job increase is the second largest in the country, behind only Texas. It follows on two months of decline - a loss of nearly 7,000 jobs combined - and rising unemployment.

"We need to see several months of increase in order to have more confidence," Dye said. "There's no way to tell ... whether this is going to stick or not."

If it does, it's a hopeful sign in the midst of discouraging national news. Home sales continue to fall, tight credit has rippled into sectors unrelated to housing and retailers are gloomy about holiday sales thus far. Dye said he thinks there's a 40 percent chance that the country could slip into recession next year.

All that makes Maryland's pickup last month a bit surprising, said Daraius Irani, director of applied economics at RESI, Towson University's research and consulting arm. But he's not ready to write it off as a statistical hiccup, not with an unemployment rate that has remained so consistently low.

"The fact is, firms are in desperate need of qualified workers," he said.

"This suggests that Maryland is riding fairly well through [these] real estate and credit-crunch issues that are going on," Irani said.

Employers in the state added 36,400 jobs in the 12 months ending in November, the Labor Department estimated. That's the largest number since the 12 months ending in June 2006.

All major sectors added jobs in the past 12 months, with the usual exception of manufacturing. But the 1,400-job reduction in that sector was the smallest since the 12 months ending in April 2005.

Professional and business services, one of the state's largest sectors, added 9,600 jobs. Leisure and hospitality employers increased their job rolls by 7,200, while the education and health services sector added 6,800 jobs.

The other sectors showing significant gains were government - up 5,500 jobs - and construction, which added 3,700 jobs on the strength of commercial building.

In a separate release yesterday, the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation said the unemployment rate in the Baltimore metro area last month was 3.6 percent, down from 4 percent. The numbers are not adjusted for seasonal variations.

Unemployment was 3 percent in Anne Arundel, 5.6 percent in Baltimore City, 3.6 percent in Baltimore County, 2.8 percent in Carroll, 3.2 percent in Harford and 2.4 percent in Howard. The rate in affluent Howard County was the state's lowest.

"In the short term, there continue to be significant downside risks as the U.S. economy teeters on the edge of recession," Dye said. "But I think the long-term prospects for Baltimore - and eastern Maryland in general - are very good."

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