Job growth slows in Md.
Despite downturn, state's unemployment rate
stays at low 3.6%
By Jamie Smith Hopkins
May 19, 2007
Maryland job growth was nearly flat in
April as employers added just 600 jobs, but the state unemployment rate
remained at a low 3.6 percent, according to Labor Department numbers
The numbers are preliminary and adjusted for
Job creation has been consistently slower than
it was a year or so ago. Employers added 26,400 jobs in the past 12
months, according to numbers that are not adjusted for seasonal
variations because they are annual. A year earlier, the 12-month total
was about 37,000 jobs. A year before that, the pace of growth topped
Despite the slowdown in new jobs, the jobless
rate - at 3.6 percent for the second consecutive month - is the lowest
since the last economic boom ended in early 2001. The nation's jobless
rate last month, by comparison, was 4.5 percent.
Some economists blame the state's fairly tepid
job growth on the housing market, because a sharp drop in sales can
ripple through many sectors of the economy, from construction to retail.
Others note that a variety of businesses are
complaining of worker shortages, which would explain both the low
jobless rate and low job growth. Jobs only count in the official data if
they are filled.
"The reason job growth numbers are low is
because we have no people," said Richard P. Clinch, director of economic
research at the University of Baltimore's Jacob France Institute. "We
haven't had the wage growth to generate more people entering the work
force, we have housing restrictions that make it harder to move into
Maryland, and we have transportation barriers."
By transportation barriers, he means an
insufficient regional transit system. Unemployed workers in Baltimore
and Prince George's County who don't have cars find it difficult, and
sometimes impossible, to get to job-rich suburbs, he said. Suburban
businesses, in turn, suffer from job openings they can't fill.
Unemployment was 5.7 percent in Baltimore but
2.5 percent in Howard County in March, the most recent month for which
data for local jurisdictions is available.
Jason Hardebeck, executive director of the
Baltimore-based Maryland Business Council, said a shortage of qualified
candidates is the top issue for the group's members, and has been for
several years. "When you really get into the nuts and bolts of their
businesses and what's holding them back, it's finding workers," he said.
State Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez wants to
improve work-force development efforts to fill shortages in health care,
hospitality, biotech and other sectors.
"We have many critical sectors, both high-tech
and low-tech, that have significant work-force needs today, and will
have even greater needs tomorrow," he said.
Still, some sectors with slowing growth could
be feeling the effects of the housing slump.
Construction, for instance, produced 2,500 jobs
in the past 12 months, about a third of the growth it had a year
earlier. Clinch, who had expected a construction bust and is surprised
the numbers aren't negative, believes it would be worse if commercial
construction weren't buoying the numbers.
Trade, transportation and utilities added 200
jobs over the past 12 months, compared with 5,500 a year earlier. A drop
in retail job growth was partly to blame.
The financial sector added even fewer jobs -
100 - as the "credit intermediation" industry, which includes mortgage
brokers, shed employment.
But two of Maryland's key employment sectors
picked up the pace. Professional and business services employers added
8,200 jobs over the past 12 months, while leisure and hospitality
employers created 6,700 jobs - in both cases, more than they did a year
earlier. Education and health services added 7,200 jobs, a bit less than
they did a year ago.
Manufacturing, which has shed jobs for years in
Maryland, was down 2,300 positions in the past 12 months. That's not as
bad as the 12-month loss of 4,400 jobs in April of last year.