Maryland's unemployment rate held steady at 7.4 percent for the fourth month in a row in December, though 6,900 jobs were lost in the state that month compared to the previous month, according to figures released today by the U.S. Labor Department.

The state's unemployment rate remained lower than the national figure, which was 9.4 percent — a 0.4 percentage-point drop from the previous month, according to the Labor Department.

Charles McMillion, chief economist and president of MBG Information Services in Washington, said the Labor Department figures for December 2010 capped a decade in which 34 states, including Maryland, lost private-sector jobs.

The states with the worst job losses over the decade included Michigan, which lost 773,000 private-sector jobs, and Ohio, which lost 600,000 private-sector jobs.

McMillion estimates that during the last decade Maryland lost 8,700 private-sector jobs, a drop of 0.4 percent. But the government sector buoyed Maryland during the decade, helping to add more than 37,000 jobs, McMillion said.

"Maryland has gone through probably the worst decade since the '30s for jobs," McMillion said. "But [the job situation] has stabilized and at the moment it seems to be improving very slowly."

From November to December 2010, the job declines in Maryland were highest in retail, transportation, manufacturing and education, according to an analysis by the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

The number of people who were unemployed in Maryland last month was 219,009, compared with 218,781 in November.

State labor officials said that the hiring of a higher-than-normal number of seasonal workers contributed to the December job decline — because employers laid off those workers right after the holidays.

Year over year, the biggest job gains in Maryland occurred in management positions for professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, and government. From December 2009 to last December, the state added 26,000 non-farm jobs, according to state labor data.

The state numbers, which are adjusted to try to account for seasonal variations in hiring and layoffs, are preliminary and occasionally revised.

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