Md. jobless rate reaches 12-year high

Number of state job-seekers is up 43% since January

November 22, 2008|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

The economic crisis pushed Maryland's jobless rate to a 12-year high in October, the Labor Department said yesterday, but economists said even modest growth in the labor force kept unemployment from spiking further.

Maryland's unemployment rate hit 5 percent for the first time since April 1996, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It increased from 4.6 percent in September, on a seasonally adjusted basis, continuing a climb tied to turmoil in housing, credit and the financial markets.

Employment in Maryland has fared better than in many other states and the nation as a whole, even during the housing downturn of the past few years, thanks to a significant government presence, experts said. The rate remained below 4 percent from December 2005 through May, when it began rising steadily.

Maryland's rate "has risen rather rapidly since the first quarter, and in that respect, it's significant," said Glenn Wingard, an economist with Moody's Economy.com. "There's just not enough jobs being created for the labor force entrants. More people are entering the labor force than jobs are being created to accommodate them."

Joblessness in the U.S. jumped to a 14-year high of 6.5 percent in October, the government said earlier this month, and many economists expect it to get much worse next year. Maryland was among 38 states and the District of Columbia to record month-to-month increases in joblessness, according to yesterday's data.

Bruce L. Robinson, 57, of Overlea, said he has been out of work for more than a year after losing his job as a manager at the state Motor Vehicle Administration. Robinson, who has headed a nonprofit drug counseling group and has experience as a city police officer, said he has applied for about 100 jobs.

"Every week is find-a-job week at my house," said Robinson, whose wife works two part-time jobs and is looking for full-time employment in nursing. "Fortunately, the kids are grown. I'm not looking in the pay range I was in. Now I'm looking for something that will get me to work. The savings are gone, and we're having to sell off retirement to meet the monthly bills."

With economic news worsening, President George W. Bush signed an extension of jobless benefits into law yesterday. That will ensure the flow of unemployment checks to millions of laid-off workers.

On a month-to-month basis, payroll employment fell in 40 states, dipping slightly in Maryland, by 1,600 jobs to 2.63 million jobs, the Labor Department report showed. But Maryland gained nearly 23,000 jobs in October from a year earlier.

David Edgerley, secretary of the state's Department of Business and Economic Development, focused on that growth in highlighting what he called the continuing strength in the state's economy.

He added, though, "We're cautious. Some sectors are being affected more than others," including retail and auto sales.

Economists like Wingard predict Maryland's unemployment rate will continue to rise, peaking at 6.1 percent by the first quarter of 2010.

In recent weeks, layoffs have been announced or are being planned throughout the region in various fields.

Boscov's closed three department stores in the Baltimore area in a bankruptcy reorganization, eliminating 394 jobs. Ciena Corp., a communications networking company, laid off 56 employees last month, including as many as 19 at its Linthicum headquarters. Brunswick Corp., a Cumberland boat builder, said it would close its last Maryland plant by the year's end, putting 115 employees out of work.

Baltimore money manager Legg Mason Inc. said last month that it would cut a third of the 147 employees at its Legg Mason Capital Management unit. And yesterday, United States Gypsum Co., a subsidiary of USG Corp., said it will shut down one of two wallboard manufacturing lines at a Baltimore factory, laying off 43 of its more than 200 workers by the end of the year, according to a spokesman.

In Maryland, as elsewhere, "everything is pointing to the weaker economy," said Mohammad Iqbal, an economist with IHS Global Insight. "The consumer is already suffering. Consumer confidence is low. Purchasing power has decreased. Credit conditions are bad, so it's a liquidity problem."

About 149,000 Maryland residents are looking for work but unable to find it, a 43 percent jump since the beginning of the year, the federal government reported.

John S. McCahan, director of operations for Recruit Military, a military-to-civilian recruiting firm based in Loveland, Ohio, has seen a jump in the number of job-seekers attending career fairs the firm holds across the country.

A job fair at Baltimore's M&T Stadium on Thursday drew 300 job-seekers, up from 225 who attended a similar fair at the stadium in August, McCahan said.

"The latest spike we are noticing is economically based," he said. "As the unemployment number increases, our numbers [of attendees] have increased."

Johanna Prestol-Dominguez, who works in human resources for Nixon Uniform Service & Medical Wear, one of the employers at Thursday's job fair, said the uniform rental service has jobs available. And Prestol-Dominguez said she has seen an increase in the number of applicants who had lost jobs in fields such as real estate, banking and mortgage lending.

George Brooks, a Northwest Baltimore resident who had been out of the military for 10 years, attended the job fair in hopes of moving from a pharmacy technician job into an auditing job where he could use his training in accounting.

Brooks said he has been looking for months, sending out two or three resumes a day. He has heard that he's not qualified or that his resume will be kept on file or that the job requires a move out of state.

With more competition out there, it could make his search tougher, he said. But Brooks said he still feels confident he'll land the right job.

"Every day is a new day," he said.

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