Growth in Maryland's labor market appears to be slowly solidifying, as expansion in a wide range of industries created more jobs in April than in any month in the past five years, driving the state's unemployment rate to its lowest level since 2008.
Employers statewide added 16,400 jobs in April, the largest monthly increase since 2010, according to new estimates released Wednesday by the Department of Labor. The unemployment rate declined to 5.3 percent, a tenth of a percentage point lower than last month and below the national average.
Underscoring the report's strength, Gov. Larry Hogan issued a statement with the state's release of the monthly figures — the first time he has done so since taking office.
"Jobs and economic development are the primary focus of my administration," said Hogan, who was in South Korea on the first stop of an Asian trade mission. "Today's positive growth reflects the fact that we are headed in the right direction, but it is essential that we work to sustain this trend and create more opportunities for all Marylanders."
The positive payroll report comes as the state's employers move past an unusually harsh winter and continue to work through the aftershocks caused by the 2013 government shutdown and restrained federal spending.
Economists, seasoned by previous accelerations that petered out and the government's downward revisions of past jobs numbers, met the figures with cautious cheer, saying they want to see the growth continue in coming months.
"It's not a number we've seen in a while, the magnitude of it, said Gary Keith, a vice president and regional economist at M&T Bank. "The question becomes again ... can we continue to see the kind of growth we saw in April? Until we see a pattern here of consecutive months, we'll just have to say we're happy with April and let's move forward."
Maryland was one of 40 states where the number of jobs increased in April and one of 17 where the increases were considered statistically significant. Since April 2014, the state has added an estimated 39,900 jobs, up about 1.5 percent.
Maryland's recent track record is less robust than the country generally, where hiring has increased at least 2 percent on a year-over-year basis for the past eight months. The state lost 7,200 jobs in March — more than the 5,700 originally estimated — and revisions have eaten away at other months with apparently significant gains.
R. Andrew Bauer, a senior regional economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, said he is encouraged that April's payroll increases were accompanied by a rise of 10,100 in the number of people in the workforce — people with jobs or looking for work — even as the unemployment rate continued to fall.
At 5.3 percent, the state's unemployment rate was below the national average of 5.4 percent and down from 5.9 percent in April 2014. The last time the state's unemployment rate was below 5.3 percent was October 2008.
"The labor market is able to accommodate those people," Bauer said. "We'll see how strong [the job numbers] are in coming months, but still if you couple the broad-based increases along with the gains in the household survey, I think they all point to a labor market which is on the upswing."
Nearly all sectors experienced gains in April, with professional and business services — a category that includes government contractors, accountants, architects and providers of other technical services — adding 7,800 jobs and leisure and hospitality adding 3,000. The construction sector added 2,500 jobs.
Manufacturing payrolls were flat, while trade, transportation and utilities declined by 700 jobs. The public sector picked up an estimated 1,400 jobs.
"To me, it's not really as much the magnitude as much as the fact that it was pretty broad-based across a number of sectors," Bauer said.
Keith said companies took time to work through the aftershocks of the government shutdown in 2013 and reduced federal spending. But hiring in the Washington suburbs has started to rebound, he said.
The Baltimore-Towson area added about 13,100 jobs last month, the Labor Department said.
The new jobs are coming at companies large and small.
Amazon has begun hiring workers for its soon-to-open Baltimore distribution center, which will employ 1,000 workers eventually. Mindgrub, a Baltimore-based software developer and digital marketing firm for clients such as Wendy's and T. Rowe Price, is on track to hire about a dozen people in 2015, similar to the hiring in each of the past two years, said CEO Todd Marks.
The company, which took off as a mobile app developer after the launch of the iPhone, has enjoyed a steady amount of work, but clients struggled to pay the bills during the recession, Marks said.
Now, he's more confident, expecting to roughly double the 54-person workforce in the next five years. The company has expanded its range of services and is looking to staff a New York office to help with business development and marketing.
"We have a lot of growth prospects," Marks said.
Many building companies have new projects underway, a boon for the construction industry, which contracted in the first three months of the year. For example, Armada/Hoffler Properties and Beatty Development recently began construction of a 157-unit apartment project for students, anchored by a new CVS Pharmacy in Charles Village near the Johns Hopkins University.
Still, people are wary, remembering optimism over strong April and May hiring last year, only to see that fade over the summer, said Tom Baum, president of the Maryland Building Industry Association and of Bozzuto Homes.
"There's a lot of folks just waiting to get through the second and third quarter to really feel like this is a trend that has solid footing," he said. "All the signs are pointing that way, but we've got to wait and see that it's sustained."