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State jobless rate holds steady in October; 700 jobs added

Maryland's jobless rate held steady in October at 4.2 percent, as the state added just 700 jobs since September, the U.S. Labor Department said Friday.

The numbers reflected a slowdown in the state's job growth that has persisted over the past three to six months, with weaknesses in areas such as construction, transportation, and leisure and hospitality. But the preliminary October data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics showed strength in health care and education.

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Unemployment is also down significantly from the year-ago rate of 5 percent.

The numbers paint a mixed picture of Maryland's labor market, said R. Andrew Bauer, a senior economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. He cited Maryland's "sizable" increase of 10,000 more people in the labor market in October.

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"It's a very large increase in the labor force, and people are finding jobs," a trend that has continued for the past year while the number of unemployed has decreased, Bauer said.

But the month-over-month growth of 700 jobs is relatively flat and broad based.

Maryland's manufacturing super sector added 900 jobs in durable goods, while the professional and business services super sector gained 2,600 jobs, the statistics show. The education and health services super sector gained 2,500 jobs.

"I'm not too concerned because I think the general direction of the national and state economy is quite solid," and because businesses haven't appeared reluctant to hire, Bauer said.

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The state lost jobs in such sectors as construction, trade, transportation and utilities, leisure and hospitality, and financial activities.

"We have continued growth in the state in some of the areas where we have strength," such as health care and education, said Daraius Irani, chief economist at the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University.

But uncertainty about the administration of President-elect Donald J. Trump, global challenges and consumer spending likely will slow job growth for the next two years, he said.

Economists said it's difficult to predict the impact of Trump's presidency on hiring because of questions about how and whether proposed policies will be implemented.

"For a lot of businesses, uncertainty [during the election] has been a factor and had material impact on risk taking and how they run their business," said Bauer, adding that the Trump administration would "create or reduce uncertainty" in varying degrees for different businesses.

Maryland's unemployment rate is well below the nation's, which dipped to 4.9 percent in October from 5 percent the previous month. Maryland was among a dozen states with statistically significant unemployment rate changes compared with October 2015.

Employers in the state have added 66,600 jobs since January 2015.

On Thursday, Morgan Stanley announced plans to hire 800 more people over four years and open a second office in Baltimore.

RDI Wire & Cable Solutions Inc., a Salisbury manufacturer of wire and cable products, plans to more than triple its 20-person work force to about 70 over the next three years as it bids on long-term aerospace and defense contracts.

TeamLogic IT, a franchise operation that manages information technology services for small and medium sized businesses, opened centers last week in Ellicott City and Hanover. It expects to hire up to six people early next year in jobs such as systems engineering and sales, said Sunil Raina, president and owner the local franchises

"We are seeing a lot of growth in the IT space, in the Internet of things, in cloud computing and storage and mobility solutions, where you need to connect computers to tablets and people in the field," Raina said. "We are here for the long term."

Augie Chiasera, president of the Greater Baltimore and Chesapeake markets for M&T Bank, said the October employment numbers confirms what he has seen within his own business — strong activity among health care companies that are "starting, and growing and hiring, and looking for financing to support that growth."

Demand has been strong for permanent and temporary workers in information technology, accounting, finance and health care, with especially strong activity earlier in the year, said Joe Gonzales, regional vice president in Maryland for employment placement firm Robert Half.

Though demand has slowed somewhat, prospective employees are confident about finding new jobs and typically get multiple offers, more than in the past, he said.

"What we're hearing is companies are still interested in hiring," Gonzales said. "There are a lot of jobs that need to be filled. People are meeting with candidates and in many cases there are good increases in salaries from one opportunity to another."

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