Maryland's unemployment rate improved in May

Maryland's unemployment rate improved slightly last month, but the state lost jobs, signaling a potential shift in employers' willingness to hire.

The number of jobs ticked down by 1,600, a 0.1 percent decrease, the U.S. Department of Labor reported Friday.

The jobless rate improved to 4.2 percent in May from 4.3 percent in April, according to preliminary data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In May a year ago, the state's unemployment rate was 4.3 percent.

The decline reflects positive trends as more people joined the labor force and the number of unemployed people declined, said Andy Bauer, senior regional economist in the Baltimore branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.

But "we saw a sizable decline in the number of jobs," while April job losses were revised to show a greater loss than originally reported, he said.

"We're seeing a falling-off in job creation over the last few months that's fairly broad based," Bauer said.

Most of the May job losses — 1,300 jobs — came in the private sector, in industries such as manufacturing, financial activities, education, and leisure and hospitality.

Bauer said employers might be concerned about a tighter budget and potential federal policy changes that could affect business, prompting employers that have openings to wait longer to fill those slots.

Still, longer-term job growth remains strong. Maryland has added 43,100 jobs since May 2016.

Mekael Teshome, an economist who covers the Baltimore region for PNC Financial Services, said he sees May's job loss as volatility that sometimes happens with the month-to-month data, and not an indication of a larger trend.

"When you compare jobs we have now to a year ago, the Maryland economy is continuing to grow at a moderate rate, and its trajectory seems to be consistent," Teshome said. "When you look at the underlying trends, there is nothing to suggest that the momentum is going to slow. We are adding jobs over time, and that helps consumers, more people working and more people able to spend money."

He noted that May was disappointing for the overall U.S. job market as well, with job growth falling below expectations.

State officials said investments in training have helped create jobs over several years and bring the jobless rate below the national average, which was 4.3 percent in May.

"Our continued commitment to improving Maryland's economy and training workers for 21st-century jobs is reflected by the more than 93,300 jobs gained since January 2015," Kelly M. Schulz, Maryland's labor secretary, said in an announcement.

The state has doubled its investment in the Employment Advancement Right Now, or EARN, grant program, which offers grants to providers with innovative approaches to training workers for higher-paying jobs.

Maryland gained jobs in mining, logging and construction, trade, transportation and utilities, retail, and professional and business services.

The U.S. Labor Department said unemployment rates were lower in nine states, higher in three states and stable in 38 states and Washington in May.

"More people are coming off the sidelines and saying it's a good time to go look for a job, and for the most part they're finding jobs, and the unemployment rate is holding steady," Bauer said.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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