State Joblessness Rises

Md 'S Unemployment Rate Of 7.3 Percent Hasn't Been This High Since 1983

July 18, 2009|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,jamie.smith.hopkins@baltsun.com

Maryland's unemployment rate rose to 7.3 percent last month - the worst it's been in a generation - as the national recession continued to eat away at the state's job base.

Employers cut 1,100 jobs last month, the Labor Department said Friday. The numbers, which are preliminary estimates, are adjusted to try to account for seasonal variations in hiring and layoffs.

The jobless rate increased from 7.2 percent in May. It's better than the national picture, with 9.5 percent of the labor force out of work. But it's far more joblessness than Maryland is accustomed to seeing.

Not since 1983 has the unemployment rate been so high. About 88,000 more Marylanders were out of work and actively trying to find a job last month than a year earlier, the federal estimates suggest.

"It's probably at least as bad a recession as any I've seen," said Chuck Durakis, president of Durakis Executive Search, who has worked as a headhunter for 25 years. "There are opportunities out there, but there's no question, it's difficult."

His Lutherville firm, which helps companies find senior-level and upper-middle management, is hearing from companies that they're swamped with job seekers.

"They've got three, four, five times more resumes than they normally have," Durakis said.

The good news is that companies sound more optimistic than they were earlier in the year, including more telling him they want to hire. "But they're still very cautious," he added.

Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake isn't seeing much to be optimistic about. The nonprofit, which helps people in Central Maryland and the Eastern Shore find work at or just above entry level, is having much less success than last year getting employers to bite.

"We are off a third, year to date, in our job placements," said Phil Holmes, Goodwill's vice president of public policy and development. "And we're trying everything. ... whatever it takes."

Holmes said at least 10 percent more job seekers are coming through Goodwill's doors, including many more recently laid-off residents than the nonprofit is used to seeing. Goodwill specializes in getting people into the workforce after long breaks in employment.

The nonprofit put 18 clients to work part-time this month, unloading trailers and preparing donations for sale in Goodwill retail stores, as a stopgap measure to give them some income as they search for permanent work.

"The goal here is to keep some people encouraged, quite frankly, because it's such a brutal job market," Holmes said.

George Grandy, 48, one of the people participating in Goodwill's "paid training," said he's been looking for nine months with no luck. He said he applies for jobs online, but when he calls to follow up, he's told they're not hiring.

"I try not to let that hold me back," said Grandy, a Baltimore resident. "I know there's employment out there."

The trouble is, most industries are cutting back. The number of jobs in Maryland dropped by 57,200 in the past 12 months, and that came from almost every sector of the economy. Construction, buffeted by the credit crunch and long housing slump, shed more than 26,000 jobs in the same time period. Trade, transportation and utilities - a category that includes retail - is down about 19,000 jobs. Firms in the financial activities sector cut 10,500 jobs. Employment also fell in manufacturing, hospitality and even the professional services sector, a Maryland mainstay.

Only government agencies and the education and health care sector added jobs.

"Some of the industries that were slow to being hit are now being hit," said Bo Szczepaniak, state labor market information program manager. "It's trickling down."

But it could be worse. The unemployment rate is higher in 34 states and Washington, D.C. In Michigan, home to the battered auto industry, the rate vaulted above 15 percent last month - more than twice as high as Maryland's.

Christian S. Johansson, secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, has been spreading the message that the state is doing better than the nation everywhere he goes. He figures he's met with nearly 100 business groups since the beginning of the year, and "the first thing I'm saying is, 'Look, there's a lot of fear in the marketplace, and fear breeds misperception.' "

Johansson said he's enlisting business leaders to take up his mantra: "This is still a safe and stable place to invest."

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