Maryland added 3,500 jobs in April

Maryland added 3,500 jobs in April, but the state's unemployment rate ticked up slightly, as more people joined the workforce than were able to find jobs, according to the latest federal employment report.

Maryland had an unemployment rate of 4.3 percent in April, up one-tenth percent from March and just below the national rate of 4.4 percent, according to new estimates released Friday by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Still Maryland's workforce has seen steady growth since the beginning of the year, with nearly 10,300 more people joining in April, which economists described as a sign of strength for the state's economy.

"So far this year we've seen sizable increases in the labor force — that's a positive sign for the economy," said R. Andrew Bauer, a Baltimore-based senior regional economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.

The jobs gain comes after a loss of nearly 8,000 jobs in March. The Labor Department had initially estimated a loss of 7,200 jobs in March, but now believes the state lost 7,900 jobs, according to new estimates released Friday.

Bauer said he did not think the March job losses were worrisome because the state overall has experienced steady job growth that outpaces the national rate.

Over the first four months of the year, Maryland added jobs at an annualized rate of 2 percent, compared to an annualized rate of 1.5 percent nationally, he said.

"It's a strong and impressive performance for the Maryland labor market compared nationally," Bauer said, especially considering the potential for uncertainty about federal policy to influence hiring.

Since April 2016, Maryland has gained 45,000 jobs, according to the report.

Richard Clinch, executive director of the Jacob France Institute at the University of Baltimore, said the March loss shouldn't be dismissed.

"Maryland is far from out of the woods on this," Clinch said. "What happens in Washington is going to determine what happens in Maryland, and we're not in any control of that."

President Donald Trump is expected to submit his detailed budget for next year to Congress next week.

Clinch said he expects limited economic growth in Maryland as the federal government hammers out the budget. Until then, the contractors that drive the state's economy likely will remain cautious in their spending and hiring, he said.

Maryland's best bet for growth is to look for ways to lessen its dependence on the federal government, Clinch said.

Maryland Labor Secretary Kelly M. Schulz said her agency has been working with businesses to accelerate hiring and training through programs such as EARN (Employment Advancement Right Now) Maryland.

Through the program, businesses in a particular industry come together to talk about their employment needs, then work with a training partner to prepare workers. Participating companies commit to hiring the trainees.

The program's budget will double in fiscal 2018, to $8 million, and includes funds dedicated to training for cybersecurity and green jobs, Schulz said.

"I would say we have to accentuate the positives. There's a certain amount of the federal government we can't deny," such as the concentration of federal agencies based in the state, Schulz said. "Do we need to diversify into other areas in order to expand? Absolutely."

The state's job growth last month was largely attributable to gains in professional services and the public sector.

Nearly 1,600 more people found work with governments in April. Federal and state offices lost jobs, while local governments hired. Professional and business services employers added 1,800 jobs.

Meanwhile education and health; trade, transportation and utilities; and construction sectors all reported job losses.

EOriginal, a Baltimore-based software company that specializes in digital transactions management, has been on a hiring spree. Stephen Bisbee, its president and co-founder, attributed the company's growth to a voracious appetite for digital transactions among businesses and individuals.

The company has about 75 employees, up from 50 this time last year, and expects to reach 100 by the end of 2017, Bisbee said. The company has added developers, customer service specialists and sales associates to keep pace with demand.

At least two-thirds of eOriginal's employees are based in Baltimore, with others spread out across the country, he said.

"It's different all the time," Bisbee said of his employee headcount.

sarah.gantz@baltsun.com

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