Anne Arundel County has been losing jobs each month since June, with13,000 fewer jobs in December than the same month a year ago.

Challenging the popular notion that defense employers keep Arundel recession-proof, the 7-month trend marks the longest period in nearly a decade in which the county has lost jobs.

December's losses far exceed those of any month since 1981, including a period of recession from August 1981 through November 1982, said Alexander D. Speer, county demographer in the Office of Planning and Zoning.

Since 1981, Speer has tracked the number of jobs each month compared with the previous year, based on statistics from the state Department of Economic and Employment Development.

"This is much worse than the previous recessionary period," he said.

In December 1990, the county had 200,752 jobs and a 4.9 percent unemployment rate, compared with 214,378 jobs in December 1989 and a 2.2 percent unemployment rate, Speer said.

The losses created a job growth rateof -6.63 percent, the lowest in a decade. In the past, rates had dipped to -4.11 percent in October 1981 and, after a recovery period, to-3.95 percent in February 1983, Speer said.

Economic Development Director Sam Minnitte attributed job losses to slowdowns in construction and retail sales, as well as to hiring freezes imposed by some companies.

"There's no question the construction industry has been hit the hardest," said Jeannette Wessell, executive director of the Anne Arundel Trade Council. "There's a tremendous trickle down to sub-contractors and anybody who has anything to do with the building industry. They were the first ones a year ago to say things are going to get really bad. It takes that long for trickle down to have an effect."

As the number of residential sales has plummeted -- falling from7,119 in 1989 to 5,941 in 1990 -- and as businesses have delayed expansions, developers have put projects on hold.

That has meant lesswork for land planners, engineers and architects, as well as for brokerage houses and retailers

who supply office buildings with everything from equipment to furniture.

"Most companies attempting to survive have taken themselves into a lean employee situation," said Greg Masi, marketing director for Airport Square Cos.' 26-building office park near Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

While Airport Square has retained its 250-person janitorial staff, "on the development side, we've thinned down to a skeletal structure," Masi said. Company officials have begun no new office construction in the past two years.

Development contractors, too, have been forced to layoff workers.

Many builders have failed to get financing for their projects, while others have faced long waits for development plan approval from the county, said Tom Baldwin, president of Reliable Contracting, a paving, grading and utility contractor for commercial and residential projects.

"We've got at least four or five projects we'd be able to be working if the county would process the applications," Baldwin said. "We're laying people off for lack of work. These projects are financed."

A job market analysis by the D.C. Department of Employment Services showed that 18 percent of the jobs lost in the Washington metropolitan region between November 1989 and November 1990 came from the construction industry.

"I would suspect we have seen a similar kind of thing," Speer said.

Though the county's unemployment rate has remained relatively low, below statewide and national rates, the county has lost more jobs percentage-wise during the past sixmonths than the nation.

Statistics show a similar pattern during the earlier recession, Speer said, but "when we did recover, we did so at a much faster rate."

The job growth rate for December, the most recent available, does not take into account 800 layoffs at Westinghouse's Linthicum site or possible layoffs of some of the 3,100 USAir employees at BWI airport as part of the airline's plans to slash 3,585 jobs.

"I suspect the figures would continue to be down for the next several months," Speer said. "There may be a lag after the economy picks up."

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