Md. jobless rate steady

Government accounts for 4,000 positions added in June

July 19, 2008|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,Sun reporter

Unemployment remained at 4 percent last month in Maryland as employers added 4,000 jobs, a gain that came entirely from government agencies.

Though some industries added to payrolls in June, employment in the private sector as a whole dropped by 500 jobs from May but rose by 4,500 on the government side, the Labor Department said yesterday. The numbers, which are preliminary, are adjusted in an effort to account for seasonal variations in hiring and layoffs.

Nationwide, employers cut 62,000 jobs in June, the sixth straight month of losses as the housing slump and the credit crisis have undermined the economy. The U.S. unemployment rate was 5.5 percent.

Maryland's job gain follows a big increase in unemployment. Richard P. Clinch, director of economic research at the University of Baltimore's Jacob France Institute, said the state's economy remains "fundamentally strong" but is feeling the ripples of national discomfort.

"Employers in Maryland are leery - and people are leery - about the economic future," he said.

In Maryland, new claims for jobless benefits are up 18 percent this year compared with the corresponding period last year, said Thomas Wendel, the state's unemployment insurance director. That comes to a little more than 137,000 people. New weekly claims are up about 750 compared with a year earlier.

Wendel noted that the state's unemployment rate was particularly low last year. In June 2007, it was 3.6 percent.

"Normally, people consider 4 percent full employment," he said. "It's worse, but it's not like it's terrible."

Michigan, at 8.5 percent, reported the highest unemployment rate last month. That state has lost more than 50,000 jobs in the past 12 months, many of them in manufacturing.

Laid-off workers here and nationwide can qualify for a longer stretch of unemployment benefits through March because of a 13-week extension approved last month and funded by the federal government. Otherwise, benefits would have been limited to 26 weeks.

Letters to 46,000

Wendel said the state sent out letters Thursday to more than 46,000 residents who might be eligible because they don't appear to have found jobs and their "benefit year" - 12 months after they filed to start getting unemployment checks - expired on or after May 1, 2007. The maximum weekly check is $380.

Last week was the first time that Americans could get the extended benefits, but Marylanders cannot apply until Tuesday. Wendel said the state needed time to retool its system and determine who might have a claim. Residents who were eligible from the start will be paid retroactively for the two missed weeks, Wendel said. Those whose benefits would have expired this week should automatically get checks for the extended period, he said.

In good times and bad, almost a third of Marylanders receiving unemployment checks exhaust their benefits, Wendel said.

30,000 jobs

Over the past 12 months, employers in the state added nearly 30,000 jobs, better than the average in 2007 but worse than in the previous three years, the Labor Department said. Those figures are not adjusted for seasonal variations because they are annual.

The biggest gains were in education and health services, which added 10,700 jobs in the past 12 months. Next were the government, which added 9,000 jobs, and professional and business services, up 8,900.

jamie.smith.hopkins

@baltsun.com

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