In Maryland and across the country, employment outlook is a pressing concern

Maryland's Role

April 02, 2009

The cold, hard reality of the recession came vividly to life this week in the Maryland National Guard Armory in Baltimore. Thousands of anxious job seekers stood in line waiting to talk with 89 employers scouting for possible new workers. But there were few, if any, immediate promises of jobs. Instead, employer reps politely accepted resumes, explained job qualifications and often urged applicants to stay in touch - through a company Web site. Joblessness and the fear of losing a job are as much a part of the American experience these days as the depressed state of the economy. A layoff notice, multiplied in the thousands, isn't just personal. It feeds the nation's downward spiral. Couples with jobs may hold onto their car instead of buying a new one, or stop eating out and forgo most other casual spending.

Unless that heightened sense of caution is relaxed, it will be difficult to achieve a significant economic recovery.

Maryland's growing federal work force has helped shield it from the full brunt of job losses in manufacturing, retail and other private sector industries. But now it is feeling significant pain. Since last spring, when the recession was just beginning, the state has lost 52,000 jobs, or 2 percent of total employment. Maryland's construction industry lost 13 percent of its job base. Other industries here posting significant losses included finance, manufacturing and retail.

Maryland hit its highest level of unemployment in 17 years when the rate reached 6.7 percent in February, up from 6.2 percent the month before. Tomorrow's jobless news isn't expected to be any better.

To cushion the blow, Maryland is beefing up its worker training and employment services with $29 million in federal aid included in the economic stimulus package. The state also is drawing on that money to add $25 more a week to a Marylander's unemployment check.

County one-stop career centers offer an array of job search and training resources, and the state's community colleges expect more students in health care and information technology programs.

Gov. Martin O'Malley rightly decided this year to extend unemployment benefits to part-timers who work at least 20 hours a week. A bill to do that is being considered by the General Assembly and should be passed quickly. Federal stimulus money will help pay for that too.

But significant job losses are expected to continue for several months, and fresh government aid to help the unemployed is almost certain to be necessary. That's because the recession's other challenges - the housing bust and the stock market wipeout - will delay any employment rebound.

That means that beyond providing relief for today's unemployed, greater emphasis must be placed on job training and retraining and improved education at all levels. If a job slump is long and deep, like the current one, some old jobs never return and some industries never revive. That makes it vital to begin preparing for the possibility of a vastly different future.

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