The state of the state: 3 reports, 3 opinions

So how is Maryland's economy doing?

Like art and so many other things, the strength of the economy is in the eye of the beholder.


Take yesterday, for instance, when three reports were released.

"Maryland is clearly in the midst of a strong economic surge lifting it out of its longest and deepest recession in over 50 years," proclaimed Charles W. McMillion, once the leading bear of Maryland economic forecasting.


"Maryland's latest indicators show a net positive but low rate of economic expansion," a second report said. This one came from the state Department of Economic and Employment Development, usually better known as an upbeat cheerleader.

"Maryland manufacturing trends mixed," said a headline on a third report, from the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond's survey of regional manufacturers.

"Some indicators of Maryland manufacturing activity declined in October," the Fed said. "Activity is expected to improve somewhat during the next six months; however, manufacturers did anticipate a decline in the number of employees."

The confusing round of pronouncements reflected the continuing cross currents in the state's economy. They also demonstrated the differing emphases economists can put on the same figures when the underlying economic direction is unclear.

Mr. McMillion said he based his newfound bullishness mainly on the fact that the number of jobs in the state, reported by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, grew by 21,300 in October, the third straight month of growth.

DEED looked at the same job figures and concluded: "Employment [as counted] by place of work still remains below the 1992 level."

The Richmond Fed, working from its own survey of manufacturers, found trends both upward and downward.

"Manufacturers expected production, exports, and employee hours to increase during the next six months," the Fed said. But it also "believed that the number of employees would decline."


DEED also reported that Maryland's unemployment rate declined slightly in October, to 6 percent in October from 6.1 percent in September, mainly reflecting a return of some teachers to classrooms in late September. The comparable national figure also declined in October, to 6.3 percent from 6.4 percent, leaving Maryland's unemployment still slightly below the national average.

"The continuing drop in unemployment is a very good sign that the state's economic recovery is beginning to gather momentum," said DEED's secretary, Mark L. Wasserman.