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Maryland loses jobs in February, but state's unemployment rate remains 3.7 percent

Maryland lost 5,800 jobs in February, according to jobs data released Friday by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, though the state’s unemployment rate remained unchanged at 3.7 percent.

The rate has remained steady since December but was down from 4.2 in February last year. The rate is just below the national rate of 3.8 percent.

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The number of people participating in the state’s labor force also ticked up slightly to just over 3.2 million, which makes this a “mixed report,” said Andy Bauer, a senior regional economist in the Baltimore branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.

“There was a drop in jobs, but the unemployment stayed at 3.7 percent, a very low rate historically,” he said. “And you look in the details and there was a nice increase in the labor force of over 5,000 people, and the vast majority found jobs. That’s why the unemployment rate stayed steady. People coming into the market is a positive.”

Bauer said people having been sitting out of the labor force since 2000 and many have been slow to return. Surveys suggest various reasons: Some were waiting for jobs or pay, the number of women entering the job market peaked and the opioid crisis has made some people unemployable. One study actually found that some young men were distracted at home playing video games and watching Netflix.

The strong economic growth drew more back, a hallmark of 2018, which was buoyed by changes to the federal tax code and tax cuts. But that wasn’t expected to continue, and the slowdown got a push in the first quarter of 2019 from a weeks-long partial government shutdown that affected Maryland harder because of its dependence on federal jobs and contracting, Bauer said.

He expected the growth for the rest of the year to look more like 2016 and 2017, which he called solid.

Officials from the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation noted that the state is still ahead with jobs. The number of jobs was up by 12,900 year-over-year, an increase of 0.5 percent.

While jobs were lost in several categories such as education and health, manufacturing and transportation in February, there were gains last month in leisure and hospitality and professional and business services, the department highlighted.

"Building a skilled, ready workforce is always our goal,” said James E. Rzepkowski, acting labor secretary. “The Maryland Department of Labor delivers on this goal through innovative workforce development programs that benefit both job seekers and employers. Our training, education, and employment services create a network of resources that help overcome employee skills gaps, creating a more employable workforce and helping Maryland businesses fill their talent pipelines."

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