State's Jobless Rate At 6.9%

Figure Highest Since April 1992

April 18, 2009|By Lorraine Mirabella and Hanah Cho | Lorraine Mirabella and Hanah Cho,lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com and hanah.cho@baltsun.com

Unemployment in Maryland reached a nearly 17-year high in March as job losses mounted in the financial, construction and manufacturing sectors and more than 205,000 state residents actively sought work.

The state's jobless rate reached 6.9 percent, the U.S. Labor Department said in a preliminary report Friday. The figures, adjusted for seasonal changes, compare with an adjusted 6.8 percent in February, also a nearly 17-year record.

"The recession is a long way from over," said Charles W. McMillion, president and economist at MBG Information Services in Washington. "The sense of well-being, the wealth effect of Maryland residents, has been affected in a way it hasn't been for a very long time."

State unemployment has not been as high as 6.9 percent since April 1992, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Like every other state, Maryland had higher unemployment in March than a year earlier, when the state's jobless rate was 3.8 percent.

Last month, the state fared better than many other states and the nation as a whole, which saw unemployment rise to 8.5 percent. Michigan topped state joblessness with a rate of 12.6 percent; followed by Oregon, 12.1 percent; South Carolina, 11.4 percent; and California, 11.2 percent.

Maryland added jobs in government and health and education, and could benefit from government stimulus spending over the next few years.

But Daraius Irani, director of applied economics for the RESI consulting arm of Towson University, said unemployment will continue to climb even as the economy begins to move toward recovery. He expects Maryland's jobless rate to hit 7 percent by June.

The slumping retail, construction and financial services sectors are hurting Maryland's economy, even as the state is buffered by its proximity to Washington, Irani said.

During the 12 months through March, Maryland lost more than 59,000 jobs, not adjusted for seasonal changes, preliminary government numbers show. More than 10,000 jobs were lost from February to March alone, when adjusted for seasonal changes.

"Individuals who don't have a college degree, who don't have a high school degree, will suffer a lot worse and a lot longer than those who have an advanced degree," Irani said.

Don Chapin, 38, a Glen Burnie resident, has always been able to count on his carpentry and plumbing skills to land a job and never even found the need to have a resume. But he hasn't been able to find work since being laid off by a pipe-fitting contractor a month ago, after construction projects were halted. No longer able to afford his rent, he has temporarily moved in with his brother and his family.

"There really isn't a lot out there," said Chapin, who moved to Maryland from Tennessee several months ago. "I've always been able to go out and take care of myself. My skills can get me a job anywhere, but right now there aren't too many jobs out there at all."

On Friday, Chapin finally put a resume together, using the resources and computers at the One-Stop Career Center in Glen Burnie, one of 34 work force service centers across Maryland that offer career counseling. He was also able to apply online for jobs and get information on an apprenticeship program.

Andy Moser, assistant secretary of the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, said requests for help at the state's career centers have jumped between 30 percent and 60 percent since September. Those seeking job assistance include hourly workers as well as professionals, "which makes competition in the job market that much tighter," he said.

Many unemployed people are facing foreclosure on their homes or have a spouse who also has lost a job, he said.

Christian S. Johansson, secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, said people should not read too much into a small month-to-month increase.

While it's too soon to say the economy is "out of the woods," Johansson echoed President Barack Obama's recent positive assessment, saying it's "looking more hopeful than a month ago."

One indicator that unemployment is bottoming out will be demand for temporary employment, Irani said.

"They're going to be the first indicators of things moving up because, as firms expand, they need help, and all of a sudden they're finding themselves short-handed. It takes longer to hire someone in the normal process," Irani said.

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