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Maryland added 8,000 jobs in February

Maryland's employers added 8,000 jobs in February, the latest sign of the state's economic recovery, labor officials said Friday. It's the sixth month in a row of jobs gains.

The state's jobless rate remained unchanged at 6.5 percent from a month earlier, but that's nearly 2 percentage points lower than the 8.3 percent national average, preliminary figures from the U.S. Department of Labor show.

"Employment is at its highest level since September 2008," Maryland Labor Secretary Alexander Sanchez said during a conference call. "These are our friends and neighbors, and they're finding jobs."

In February, the state saw strong activity in construction; financial, professional and business services; education and health sectors as well as the leisure and hospitality industries.

Friday's report also indicated Maryland fared better in job growth in January than initially estimated. The Labor Department revised the job gains upward from 5,000 to 9,100.

So Maryland gained 17,100 jobs in the first two months of the year.

SECU, Maryland's largest credit union, has been hiring for the past year, employing 80 new workers, said Teshia Davis, senior manager of human resources. The hiring reflects usual turnover as well as a demand in business, Davis said.

The credit union is now advertising 20 positions for jobs, including branch tellers, financial service consultants and customer service representatives.

Joe Gonzales, a regional manager at staffing firm Robert Half's Maryland offices, said he's seeing brisk hiring among employers in the education and health care sectors as well as professional services, such as accounting and finance.

In areas where specialized skills are required, Gonzales said, some employers are fighting for talent, with some candidates fielding two to three offers, recalling the pre-recession days when applicants had the upper hand in the job market.

"People ran very lean for quite some time," he said of business employment. "They're starting to get to a point where they absolutely need to add."

Last month, the number of Marylanders in the labor force grew by 4,600 to about 3.1 million people, an encouraging sign that people are looking for work, said Daraius Irani, director of Towson University's Regional Economic Studies Institute.

The increase in the number of unemployed was offset by job gains last month, Irani said.

"Overall, we're doing good," he said. "We could do better and should do better going forward."

Still, the state shed jobs in manufacturing, government, and transportation and warehousing.

Irani cited the reduction in public sector employment as a concern since Maryland has large base of federal and state workers as well as private government contractors.

While areas such as intelligence and cyber security are "fairly sacred," given the National Security Agency in Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground, Irani said some private government contractors have cut back or slowed hiring due to budget concerns in Washington.

Another concern is how increasing gas prices would affect tourism and other sectors in the coming months, Irani said.

"It's both good and bad for Maryland," he said. "People may not fly but they may stay local. It's difficult to tell what will happen."

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