Md. Adds 10,000 Jobs

Monthly Increase Is Largest In 4 Years, But Unemployment Also Rises

August 22, 2009|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,

Maryland employers added thousands of jobs last month, a sign that prospects could be improving for out-of-work residents, though unemployment continued to rise.

The Labor Department estimated Friday that companies created 10,000 jobs between June and July, adjusted for seasonal variations. That's an unusually large number - the biggest increase in four years - but economists cautioned that the picture is probably skewed by the agency's attempt to account for normal hiring and layoff patterns in these abnormal economic times.

Unemployment in Maryland rose to 7.3 percent last month from 7.2 percent in June, according to the Labor Department survey.

Though the state doesn't strike Baltimore economist Anirban Basu as 10,000 jobs stronger, he said he does see signs of improvement.

"My sense is that the stimulus dollars are really beginning to roll into the economy," said Basu, chief executive of Sage Policy Group, an economic and policy consulting firm. "Marylanders can look in any direction and see significant infrastructure projects taking place, and some of those projects are traceable directly to the stimulus package passed in February.

"There is also evidence that residential real estate is becoming more active again," Basu said. "While it's too soon to tell whether the housing market's recovery will persist beyond November, when the first-time home buyer tax credit lapses, for now, there has been an increase in sales volume and therefore more activity for Realtors, title companies and others."

Some of the stimulus money is finding its way to job-seekers. The Mayor's Office of Employment Development in Baltimore, which helps connect people in need of work and companies in need of people, said it has a $1.3 million stimulus grant to get job training for more than 300 city residents. The training is to begin this fall. Much of it will be for work in the health care industry, which has not contracted.

"We're very excited," said Mary Sloat, assistant director for work force operations at the agency, which is seeing 20 percent more job-seekers at its one-stop centers than it did a year ago.

The recession has been "quite rough" by Maryland's standards, Basu said. It's been 26 years since unemployment was around 7.3 percent. Unemployment would be even higher if not for 40,000 Marylanders dropping out of the labor force in the past year, according to federal estimates - a red flag that usually means people have given up their search for work.

But there are many worse places to be on the hunt for a paycheck. Nationally, unemployment is 9.4 percent. Maryland's rate of job loss in the past 12 months is better than that in all but seven states and the District of Columbia, said economist Charles W. McMillion of MBG Information Services in Washington.

Job search engine ranks the Baltimore area third in the country for the number of job openings versus job-seekers - a ratio of 1-to-1. Topping the list was Washington, where many Marylanders work, with six job postings for every unemployed resident. Compare that with Detroit, worst among the 50 largest metro areas, with just one job posting for every 18 out-of-work people.

The Maryland sectors that have more jobs now than a year ago include education and health services, always a strong area for a state full of universities and hospitals, and the tourism-dependent leisure and hospitality industries.

"We're having a very good year in tourism because of the 'staycation' phenomena," said Christian S. Johansson, secretary of the state Department of Business and Economic Development. "Folks want to stay close on vacation."

Holly Snyder, an executive recruiter with the Baltimore branch of Ajilon, a staffing company that specializes in accounting, finance and administration jobs, said she's seeing a pickup in demand for temporary workers in those fields.

"It's the first time we've seen a steady increase," Snyder said. "There was a period of four months where we really did not have much activity, particularly on the administrative side. ... I think there's still going to be some challenges the remainder of the year, but it's the first encouraging bit of news that we've received in a very long time."

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