Momentum in Maryland's labor market continued to sputter in November, with employers adding just 100 jobs, making it the fifth month in a row with little or no job growth.
Job estimates released Friday by the U.S. Department of Labor showed the state's unemployment rate held steady last month at 4.2 percent.
That's lower than the national average of 4.6 percent. But job growth in Maryland has slowed significantly from earlier in the year, when the state appeared to finally be shaking off a slowdown related to a period of more limited federal spending.
Economist Laura Ratz, who follows Maryland for Moody's Analytics, said the earlier surge was unsustainable, given how closely the state's economy is tied to slow-but-steady sectors like health care and the federal government.
"It's kind of slowed down to its cruising speed," she said.
Since November 2015, the number of jobs in the state has increased by 1.1 percent, a gain of 30,200 jobs. That's lagging behind the nation, where jobs grew 1.6 percent year over year, according to the estimates, which are adjusted to account for seasonal variation.
Other indicators also have signaled weakness. State officials in August said they were collecting less tax revenue than expected, and later announced deep cuts to the revenue forecast. A quarterly census of employment showed 1 percent job growth in Maryland over the 12 months that ended in June. Just 15 percent of businesses surveyed by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond in November said they expect to hire in the next six months.
R. Andrew Bauer, a senior regional economist for the Richmond Fed branch, called the slowing job growth "significant," but said other parts of Friday's report were encouraging.
"It's a signal that I'm watching, but I'm not at this point concerned about just because more broadly economic conditions appear to be … healthier," he said.
More than 9,000 people entered the labor force over the month, without causing the unemployment rate to increase. That suggests most were able to find jobs, a portrait of the job market that Bauer said matches the confidence he's heard from employers.
Employers in Maryland's leisure and hospitality sector reported the biggest gains in November, adding 2,200 jobs over the month, followed by the public sector, where payrolls swelled by 1,900.
Manufacturing was a bright spot, with an increase of 1,100 positions. Payrolls in the professional and business services category also rose by 1,000.
Other areas showed cutbacks.
Employment in trade, transportation and utilities fell by 3,100. The construction industry shed 900 positions and financial services lost 600. Even education and health services — typically a stalwart for Maryland — fell by 400.
Friday's estimates also revised earlier figures released for October, reversing from a gain of 700 jobs to a decline of about 1,400 positions.
With more people working, it's harder for employers to make hires, Ratz said.
Businesses responding to a regular survey from the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond have repeatedly reported difficulty finding qualified workers for more than two years.
Public officials have steered money to job training programs to try to correct the mismatch.
Justus Wamatoyi, 58, came to the U.S. from Kenya last year. A textile chemist, he was unable to find a job in his field, but he's enrolled in a course offered by the BioTechnical Institute of Maryland that trains students in lab techniques and has placed graduates at firms that include Emergent BioSolutions and McCormick & Co.
Wamatoyi said he is optimistic about his chances and hopes it will lead to other, better opportunities.
"I see there are a lot of openings in the biotech industry," he said.
The BioTechnical Institute, which is partially funded by federal and state grants, has seen inquiries from employers increase, in fields that range from lab techs to advanced manufacturing, said executive director Kathleen Weiss.
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"It's pretty strong," she said. "This is an industry that's growing and that overlaps other industries."
Economist Anirban Basu, CEO of Sage Policy Group, said Friday's reports may overstate some of the job growth, but he said some weakness could be caused by the low or stagnant wages paid by many of the new jobs.
"A lot of people focus on the quantity, but the quality of jobs being added is not extraordinary," he said.
A new spurt of job growth may be on the way, with businesses expecting tax cuts and deregulation from Washington under President-elect Donald Trump, said Terry Clower, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University.
But in the long term, it's less clear what kind of impact Trump's policies will have on Maryland, especially if he targets the federal workforce for cuts, Basu said.
"It's tough to see which way it will shake out at this stage," Ratz said. But it "will definitely, I think, be felt in Maryland one way or another."