Maryland jobless rate falls for first time since Dec. 2007

Employers add 8,200 jobs in April in another sign of recovery

May 21, 2010|By Jamie Smith Hopkins, The Baltimore Sun

Maryland's unemployment rate improved in April for the first time since the recession hit at the end of 2007, a turnaround that came as employers added jobs for the second straight month.

The state's jobless rate, which had risen to a 27-year high of 7.7 percent this year, fell to 7.5 percent last month, the U.S. Department of Labor reported Friday. It estimated that Maryland businesses and agencies created 8,200 jobs in April. That comes on the heels of a huge gain in March — almost 29,000 jobs.

"The job creation in the last three months is the largest three-month job creation in Maryland in more than 20 years," said Alexander M. Sanchez, the state's labor secretary. "New claims for unemployment benefits have fallen more than 40 percent in the last six months — that's another extremely positive sign."

Also Friday, the Defense Department announced that the headquarters for its new Cyber Command, which is to oversee military and civilian workers worldwide on cybersecurity issues, will be located at Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County. The news had been expected.

The impact on Maryland employment is unclear, though state officials say it will mean new jobs. The Army said it is putting more than 21,000 military and civilian workers around the globe under the command.

"The governor has pushed for a long time for Maryland to be an epicenter for cybersecurity," said Shaun Adamec, a spokesman for Gov. Martin O'Malley.

The job market recovery in Maryland is echoed nationwide. Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia added jobs in April, the Labor Department said.

Few states, though, saw job gains along with a drop in unemployment as did Maryland. The jobless rate often rises when an economy begins to improve, as job seekers who had stopped searching in frustration flood back into the labor force for another try.

Maryland's job growth in March, while revised downward from the government's initial report, still was among the largest in the nation.

The biggest hirers in the state last month were businesses in the leisure and hospitality sector, which added 7,100 jobs. Government positions accounted for 4,100 new jobs as the Census Bureau hired part-time workers to go door to door for the 2010 count.

Construction, manufacturing, education and health services employers also have been hiring, according to preliminary estimates, which are adjusted to account for seasonal variations.

"It's just more confirmation that … Maryland clearly has come out of the recession and is growing," said Charles W. McMillion, chief economist at MBG Information Services in Washington.

But Maryland's road to recovery is not free of bumps. Employment in two key sectors — finance and professional and business services — contracted. And more layoffs were announced this week.

JPMorgan Chase said it would be shutting a call center in Frederick in phases through the year, citing a need for greater operational efficiencies and a drop in delinquent credit-card accounts, which the 600 employees there handled.

General Dynamics laid off 80 workers in Westminster this month and said it will cut 31 more jobs in July, leaving about 370 there. A contract to make mail sorters at the Carroll County facility has expired, and the demand for machining work is down overall, the defense contractor said.

"The general economy downturn finally caught up with us," said Peter Keating, a company spokesman.

The recession did not hurt Maryland to the degree that it hit the nation as a whole, but the pain still has been substantial.

The state's unemployment rate was 3.5 percent at the end of 2007, with about 107,000 looking for work. Now, more than 220,000 are seeking employment, and economists warn that it could be a long time before the job market has expanded enough to accommodate many of them.

But the job market seems to be headed in the right direction. That means more opportunities.

Michael D. Golden quickly found a temporary position with the state after losing his job in September when Maryland Public Television cut 10 percent of its staff. In February, he started a permanent job as director of external affairs for the State Retirement Agency.

An outpouring of help from friends made a difference. After noting his laid-off status on the social-networking site Facebook, he was inundated with offers of assistance and job leads. One suggestion was for the newly created position he ultimately landed.

"I consider myself very, very, very lucky," Golden said. "In 1995, I was laid off from BlueCross BlueShield, and it took me 11 months to find a job. I thought I was staring at that again. … Getting laid off was a very positive experience this time because I found out how many friends I truly have."

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