Maryland adds 35,800 jobs in March, tops in the nation

Recovery from Feb. snowstorms might have played a role

  • Baltimore resident Kat Hudson, shown in her apartment, says she sees signs of hope after having lost her job running a temporary-staffing agency office two months ago.
Baltimore resident Kat Hudson, shown in her apartment, says… (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore…)
April 16, 2010|By Jamie Smith Hopkins, The Baltimore Sun

Maryland employers added 35,800 jobs last month, the first gain since the middle of 2008 and the largest increase in the nation, the federal government estimated Friday.

The state's rise in employment accounted for more than a fifth of the 162,000 jobs created nationwide in March.

Part of the gain in Maryland might not actually be new jobs, economists caution. They think some positions fell off the radar in February because the blizzards hit around the time that the U.S. Department of Labor conducted its survey. Workers stuck at home would temporarily disappear from the tally if they went without wages for an entire pay period.

But the March increase is nearly three times as large as the February loss. That suggests to some economists that a real turnaround could be under way after months of recessionary pain.

Christian S. Johansson, Maryland's secretary of business and economic development, said 35,800 jobs represents the second-largest one-month gain in Maryland since the federal government started keeping track in 1939. Only in January 1970 did employers add more jobs, he said.

Every major sector in Maryland, from manufacturing to finance, created jobs last month, according to the preliminary estimates.

"I'm in a great mood today," Johansson said. "If this was a fluke, you would not have been expecting to see gains across so many different industries."

Maryland unemployment held steady last month at 7.7 percent. About 6,000 more people joined the labor force in search of work, which is why the rate didn't drop. As an economy improves, discouraged workers who earlier gave up looking for a job often rush back into the fray, noted Charles W. McMillion, chief economist of MBG Information Services in Washington.

Census 2010 jobs, which are temporary, accounted for some of the increase in jobs but not most. The number of jobs in all government agencies — not just the Census Bureau — rose by 4,600, according to the Labor Department estimates.

The Census Bureau said its big hiring push is under way now. It needs to bring on more than 7,500 part-time enumerators to knock on Maryland doors starting in May, with training the last week in April.

"We are still hiring in Baltimore," said Sylvia T. Ballinger, a Census spokeswoman. "The need's pretty urgent."

Even after subtracting out the losses in February, March looks like the start of recovery to McMillion.

"Everything has just come together in Maryland," he said. "The sectors that were declining are stabilizing."

But Richard P. Clinch, director of economic research at the University of Baltimore's Jacob France Institute, doubts that the true job gain is anywhere near as large as the estimates suggest. A 35,000-job gain is what Maryland employers might add in a decent year, not a month, he noted.

"I think Maryland is in for some slow growth," he said. "I would not break out the champagne."

Baltimore resident Kat Hudson, who lost her job running a temporary staffing agency office two months ago, said the job market in the past few years has been "like a roller coaster." But conditions do seem to be improving, judging by help-wanted postings, she said.

"I've noticed a lot more jobs," said Hudson, 40. "I feel optimistic — things are actually picking up."

There's a lot of catch-up to do.

Maryland has lost about 100,000 jobs since employment peaked in February 2008. That's on par with the jobs slashed between the spring of 1990 and 1992, another rough period for the state.

The state's unemployment rate, meanwhile, is at a 27-year high.

But the 7.7 percent rate is better than the nation's 9.7 percent unemployment figure. And it's lot better than the rate topping 10 percent in 15 states and Washington, D.C.

"People in other parts of the country that are still hurting — Michigan, Nevada come to mind — are likely to come to Maryland to look for work," said McMillion, the economist.

Virginia and Pennsylvania were second and third behind Maryland in terms of job creation last month, with more than 20,000 jobs each. Like Maryland, both states were buffeted by the February storms. Unlike Maryland, their March job creation wasn't impressive after subtracting out February's losses.

When looking at the entire period between January and March, Pennsylvania gained 7,400 jobs. Virginia lost almost 7,000. Maryland gained 23,100 in that time.

Hudson, the Baltimore resident, knows that full recovery could take a while. But she's hopeful that the state is moving in the right direction.

"I have a few friends that have been out of work for quite a while, some as long as 11, 12 months, and they're finally landing jobs," she said. "That's a huge sign."


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