Maryland added 500 jobs in January

Maryland adds 500 jobs in January, unemployment stands at 5.5 percent

Maryland employers added 500 jobs in January, a marginal gain dragged down by losses in the leisure and hospitality industry, according to Labor Department data released Tuesday.

But economists said they want to see how the state does in coming months before jumping to conclusions, especially given stronger than previously understood hiring in the second half of last year.

Updated Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show Maryland businesses added nearly 40,000 jobs in 2014, up about 1.5 percent, or roughly double what had been previously reported.

"It was slightly shocking … but in a good way," said Charles Dougherty, economist for IHS Global Insight.

Even so, it's clear the state still is playing catch-up compared to the rest of the country. Nationally, job growth in 2014 increased by about 2.3 percent.

With an economy tied to the federal government and private sectors such as education and health care, the state is less likely to experience rapid job growth than places driven by more cyclical industries, said Gus Faucher, a senior economist for PNC Financial Services Group.

"On a relative basis the job growth in Maryland is lagging well behind what we're seeing nationally," he said. "It is growing, but slowly."

Maryland was one of 39 states to experience overall payroll growth in January. Public employers added 800 jobs, while the private sector shed 300 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The professional and business services sector — a grab bag category that includes government contractors — added 1,900 new positions, but the increase was offset by the loss of 4,100 jobs in accommodation and food services.

Local baker Ned Atwater said his business grew last year, with two new Atwater's stores opening last year, adding roughly 30 people to the payroll. He now employs more than 200 people at his six locations and kitchen.

But the slow days and closings that accompanied this winter's snow and ice were difficult, especially after that expansion, he said.

"If we weren't tight, it wouldn't be a big deal to miss a day here or there, but this year was a little tough," said Atwater, who said the business reduced shifts for some employees.

Tuesday's estimates found the Baltimore metro area lost roughly 4,500 jobs in January. Economists cautioned against reading too much into January's numbers, which reflect a month when seasonal adjustment can be especially unreliable.

But the 2014 BLS revisions, which make Baltimore-area job growth more in line with the rest of the state, "feel a little more correct," than when they suggested the region was driving the state's job gains, said Gary Keith, regional economist for M&T Bank.

"Throughout 2014 we were scratching our head a little bit to understand why Baltimore was performing better," Keith said.

The state's unemployment rate remained unchanged in January at 5.5 percent, slightly lower than the 5.7 percent national average.

Maryland's unemployment picture may appear brighter due in part to less rapid expansion in the number of people in the labor market than in other parts of the country, Faucher said. But, he added, "overall it's a positive."

"We are seeing the unemployment rate decline with an expanding labor force, so that's generally good news," he said.

Keith said he expects to see the state's economy improve over the course of the next year.

"We'd like to be growing faster, but that's moderate growth," he said. "Hopefully this year, we'll move closer to that national number."

Dougherty predicted the same, though he shied away from a prediction of when it might match the rest of the nation.

Still, he said, the revisions to the 2014 data show movement in the right direction.

"This is a very good employment report and a very good re-benchmarking," he said.

nsherman@baltsun.com

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