Maryland employers cut 8,900 jobs in September and October, almost entirely before the partial federal shutdown, according to data released Friday.
The U.S. Department of Labor, which released both months at once as a result of shutdown delays, said the bulk of the drop occurred in September. The agency estimated the state lost 400 jobs in October.
Maryland's labor secretary, Leonard J. Howie III, blamed some of those cuts on "the ongoing uncertainty created by the sequester" — federal cuts rippling through agencies this year. He said employers also reacted to the twin possibilities of the shutdown and a default on U.S. debt.
October's job figure wasn't reduced by the thousands of then-furloughed federal workers, all of whom still were counted as employed. But more than half the jobs lost during the previous two months were government jobs, the Labor Department estimated.
It makes sense to Richard Clinch, a locally based research economist at Battelle Memorial Institute, that a state with an outsized share of federal jobs and contracting would see negative effects this fall.
"We took the hit on the chin," Clinch said. "We're not falling down, but we're not up swinging yet."
Clinch cautioned that the figures are volatile because it's not easy to get an exact snapshot of the job market soon after the fact. He distrusts large swings — something the state has seen a lot this year, either up and down.
Most states gained jobs in October, but the entire region took a buffeting. Washington and Pennsylvania added no jobs that month, while Virginia lost 5,400, one of the biggest cuts in the nation.
Maryland's unemployment rate, however, improved from 7 percent in August to 6.7 percent in September and remained there last month, the Labor Department said.
The separate surveys don't always tell the same story. That's partly because the jobs are counted within state lines, while the unemployment rate can fall if Marylanders find work elsewhere, Clinch noted.
September's improved rate came alongside an increase in the pool of available workers, a good sign. But the pool shrank in October. If all those who dropped out of the labor force remained and couldn't find a job, Maryland's rate would have nudged up to 6.8 percent.
Those feeling the pinch include government contractors. Those firms furloughed some employees during the shutdown and have pulled back for months.
Richard Knight, co-chair of the Baltimore Washington Corridor Chamber's Government Contracting Council, said it's been a tough year, with sequestration cuts and holding-pattern resolutions rather than actual budgets. Then came the 16-day shutdown.
"Everything got thrown out of kilter," said Knight, a vice president at WIMSCO, a Bowie information technology and consulting firm.
The funding deal that reopened the government in October is set to end in January, and firms are worried about an encore, he added.
Maryland job losses were widespread in September, but more than half came from local government agencies, according to the Labor Department. Clinch thought the unusually large 4,900-job drop in local government employment was more a measurement problem than reality.
It also sounded off to Andrea Mansfield, legislative director for the Maryland Association of Counties — just like a large gain reported earlier this year.
"It's been fairly consistent lately," she said. "We haven't had any of those weird shifts or turns."
The private sector expanded by 600 jobs in October, a gain outnumbered by cuts in government. Leisure and hospitality added 1,800 jobs and construction added 1,500, the two biggest gains. Manufacturing led the sectors shedding jobs, losing 1,200 positions.
The numbers were adjusted to try to account for seasonal variations in hiring and layoffs.
With the newest cuts, the state's job base once again dipped below the level compared with before the contraction of the recession. Maryland crossed over in June and again in August after retrenching in July. Now it's 8,200 jobs short.
But amid the cuts, some businesses hired. A Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park franchise in Columbia opened in September and now employs 115 people. "We probably could use about another 10 or 15," said Greg Hansen, its operations director.
Zenith Global Logistics, meanwhile, is hiring 10 warehouse employees and 11 drivers. It moved its local freight hub and warehouse from Elkton to Aberdeen in October, tripling its space to serve more states.
Jack Hawn, CEO of the North Carolina home-furnishings carrier, said Maryland is a good location because so many markets are within a day's drive.
"We didn't pick that area by mistake," he said.
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