Mass layoffs spiked in July as Maryland job growth continued to slow, a sign that the sputtering national economy is hitting home.
Employers added a total of 500 jobs, with more brisk hiring in the private sector tempered by the loss of temporary Census Bureau positions, the U.S. Department of Labor estimated Friday. That's the smallest increase since the state switched course from losses to gains in March, according to figures adjusted to account for seasonal changes in hiring and layoffs.
The state had 20 mass layoffs in July, compared with 11 a month earlier and also a year ago, a separate Labor Department report showed. It counted job cuts by any employer that affected at least 50 people over a five-week period.
Maryland's situation remains significantly better than the nation overall, which lost 131,000 jobs last month. And the state's growth this year — about 37,000 jobs — is the largest for a January-to-July stretch since 1999.
But with so much lost ground to make up from the recession, it's still rough for Maryland job seekers.
The state's unemployment rate stayed steady at 7.1 percent last month only because 9,000 residents stopped looking for work, a common trend when jobs are scarce and applicants are discouraged. In fact, 37,000 fewer Marylanders are in the labor force — either working or looking — than a year ago, according to the Labor Department.
"There hasn't been sufficient momentum to maintain hiring," said Richard P. Clinch, director of economic research for the University of Baltimore's Jacob France Institute. "Short of a national recovery, we're not going to see a lot of job growth in Maryland. … The engine of growth for the Maryland economy, which is the federal government, is slowing."
The state was partially buffered from the recession's effects by outsized federal spending here, but it's not immune to national economic conditions, Clinch said. The loss of federal jobs connected with Census 2010, for example, rippled across the country.
Sara Kline, an associate economist with Moody's Analytics, wasn't surprised by slowing job growth in Maryland last month. The swift expansion in temporary census jobs this spring swelled employment here and nationwide, but the federal agency has been paring back in a big way since June.
And the numbers aren't all gloomy, Kline notes. Maryland's private sector added 3,400 jobs last month. That's not as strong as the increases in that sector in April and May, which were each above 5,000, but it's an improvement from June.
"It's encouraging that it's growing, even if it's not as fast a pace as it was earlier," she said.
And other jobs tied to the federal government are coming through the base realignment and closure effort, known as BRAC. That is due to send thousands of jobs to two Baltimore-area military installations. Growth at Aberdeen Proving Ground is starting to ramp up now, while many of the jobs moving to Fort Meade are expected next year.
Some of the jobs are filled and simply moving. The rest will require new hires. Both the hiring and relocating should bring economic benefits for the region — along with demands on roads, schools and services.
Also, new claims for unemployment benefits are falling in Maryland, despite the rise in mass layoffs.
"Both the number of claims and the amount of benefits being paid by the [unemployment] trust fund are substantially below where they were this time last year," said Bernie Kohn, a spokesman for the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
All told, 210,000 Marylanders were actively looking for work but hadn't yet found it in July, the Labor Department said. Brandon S. Randolph, a 23-year-old Morgan State University student, joined them this month.
He discovered this week that his part-time position at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore had been eliminated. After a leave of absence this summer to intern with the Army Corps of Engineers in Europe, he returned to find that the hospital was covering his shifts with the staff already on hand and intended to continue that situation.
"As soon as I heard, I gave it about an hour, let it settle in, and then I started looking for jobs," said Randolph, who's about to start his final year as a civil engineering student. "Might as well try to put out as many applications now as possible and let the chips fall as they may."
He's hopeful about his chances of finding a new part-time position at a hospital or university. The education and health services sector has been one of the few stalwarts in Maryland, adding even as others cut. That sector alone created 10,000 jobs over the past 12 months.
Randolph is also pretty upbeat about facing the job market as a graduate in a year. He's willing to move, and he figures he'll be able to find a civil engineering job for the same reason that workers are still landing health care jobs. Infrastructure breaks down and people get sick, no matter what's happening in the economy at large.
"Somebody needs to be there to fix them," he said.
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