State jobless rate jumps

158,000 Maryland job-seekers unable to find work as unemployment rises to 5.3 percent

December 20, 2008|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,

Maryland's jobless rate climbed to 5.3 percent last month, keeping it at a more than 12-year high, the Labor Department said yesterday.

It was the worst unemployment rate for the state since January 1996, when it hit 5.4 percent, and the number reflected the worsening turmoil in the financial, credit and housing markets.

"It's to be expected in light of worsening economic conditions," said Daraius Irani, director of applied economics for the RESI consulting arm of Towson University. "Maryland is going to get hit, and going forward will see an increase in the unemployment rate."

Maryland's November unemployment rate increased, on a seasonally adjusted basis, from 4.9 percent in October. The Bureau of Labor Statistics adjusted that rate from the preliminary number of 5 percent reported last month.

Maryland was among 37 states and the District of Columbia reporting month-over-month jobless increases in November.

The nation's jobless rate last month rose to 6.7 percent, the government had reported earlier, as U.S. employers shed 533,000 jobs. That was the biggest job loss in a single month since December 1974. Maryland is expected to be buffered to some extent from the nation's rate of job losses because the region is not heavily dependent upon manufacturing and has a high share of federal government jobs.

Still, the number of out-of-work Maryland residents is growing. Preliminary numbers released yesterday showed that about 158,000 Maryland residents are looking but have been unable to find work, a 52 percent jump since the beginning of the year.

On a month-to-month basis, payroll employment fell in 41 states. Maryland lost 4,900 jobs in November, bringing payroll employment down to 2.63 million jobs, the government statistics showed. Many of those likely came in the hardest-hit sectors of construction, retail, financial services and manufacturing, or were tied to the auto industry, as manufacturers slow production.

Maria Solitario, a Lutherville resident with a background in psychology and early childhood education, has been looking for a job mostly at hospitals or preschools for more than a year. Solitario was laid off in October 2007 as a supervisor for a residential treatment facility in Baltimore as part of budget cuts, and now she finds herself overqualified for many jobs. But she says she can't afford to take an entry-level job.

"If I take a position for less than $10 an hour, I just can't survive off of that," says Solitario, who relies on unemployment insurance to rent an apartment for herself and her three young-adult children. "It's just so tough. Between rent, car insurance, food, it's difficult because you have to juggle everything. I can't even understand what's happening."

Local employers have announced hundreds of layoffs in recent weeks.

Volvo AB of Sweden said about a week ago that it is cutting production and workers at its Mack Powertrain Division plant in Hagerstown, effective Jan. 25, as sales of trucks and buses have dropped. Two Baltimore-area manufacturers are laying off a total of 267 workers, including Harland Clarke, which is shutting down a check-printing operation in Glen Burnie by the end of March. Solo Cup Co. plans to lay off 147 workers at its Owings Mills plant and 29 people in its Owings Mills corporate offices.

Baltimore money manager Legg Mason Inc. earlier this month cut 8 percent, or about 200 people, from its corporate work force, affecting about 99 employees in the Baltimore region. And Baltimore-based energy giant Constellation Energy Group blamed the near certainty of a prolonged, deep recession for plans to cut more than 800 people, mostly from its commodities trading division, with about half those jobs in the Baltimore area. And more layoffs are expected as part of Provident Bankshares announcement yesterday that is has agreed to sell itself to M&T Bank Corp.

The state's jobless rate has risen significantly on a nonseasonally adjusted, year-over-year basis. Maryland unemployment had been at 3.4 percent in November 2007, data show.

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