January figures show 18th straight month of job losses in Maryland

Employers cut 2,500 jobs as unemployment rises to 7.5% in state

March 11, 2010|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | jamie.smith.hopkins@baltsun.com

Many states added jobs in January, but Maryland - a latecomer to the dour recession party that has undergone a shorter period of job loss - wasn't among them.

Maryland employers cut 2,500 jobs in January, the 18th straight month of losses in this two-year-old recession, the Labor Department estimated Wednesday. The state's unemployment rate rose from 7.4 percent in December to 7.5 percent in January, a new high-water mark not seen since the spring of 1983.

Nationally, the employment picture was mixed. Employers created jobs in 31 states and the District of Columbia, the Labor Department said. Still, in many states, the gains weren't enough to lower the unemployment rate. To allow monthly comparisons, the numbers are adjusted to account for seasonal variations in hiring and layoffs.

Local job-seekers can take heart from one bit of good news: Openings in the South, the region that includes Maryland, ticked upward in January, according to a separate report from the Labor Department.

Job search site Indeed.com, which compiles help-wanted postings from company career sites and job boards, notes that both the Baltimore and Washington metro areas now have as many job openings as unemployed residents. Baltimore-area job postings on Indeed.com rose 18 percent from December to January.

Word seems to have gotten out. The number of Marylanders working or looking for work grew in January for the first time in a year and a half. Normally, the labor force increases along with population growth, but not if many people despair of finding a job and stop looking - meaning they're no longer counted. Since peaking in May 2008, the state's labor force has shrunk by more than 70,000 people.

January's labor-force growth was modest - 1,400 people - and economists warned that it's too early to call it a trend. But Richard P. Clinch, director of economic research at the University of Baltimore's Jacob France Institute, said he wouldn't be surprised if unemployed Marylanders are dipping their toes back into the job market.

"People are reading that things are getting better," Clinch said, noting that the national unemployment rate fell to 9.7 percent in January from December's 10 percent. "As the national economy turns around, it will slowly catch hold in Maryland."

States that felt the effects of the recession early on will probably improve before Maryland, which didn't get pinched right away, he said. The nation slid into recession in December 2007, but Maryland's unemployment rate remained in the 3 percent to 4 percent range for nine more months.

"We haven't experienced the level of economic dislocation that the nation has experienced," Clinch said. "So we're not going to see the dramatic turnarounds."

Michigan, one of the worst hit, was among the states with both a lower unemployment rate and a growing job base in January. But its 14.3 percent jobless rate - the highest in the nation - is still far above Maryland's, with the 16th-lowest rate.

Michael Peña, 36, decided to move to Baltimore from another high unemployment state - California - because he got a job offer here. He lost his communications job at Stanford University last May as part of recession-driven layoffs and knew it would be difficult to find something similar nearby. California unemployment shot past 10 percent early last year and kept going, hitting 12.5 percent in January.

"I applied just as heavily during my job search in the Bay Area as I did with the select markets like Boston and Baltimore or the D.C. area, and it was just a lot tougher in the Bay Area to get an interview," he said. "Everybody was out of work. Everybody was willing to be underemployed."

So, the lifelong Californian left San Jose for Baltimore just after Christmas, starting his job as a science writer at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics in January. He doesn't regret the move, despite getting snowed in the next month.

"It's a fascinating job," Peña said.

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