The news on Maryland's job front is good -- but not too good.
Unemployment in Maryland fell 0.5 percent in December, but the dip to an impressive-sounding 4.5 percent rate came mostly because the state's labor force shrank by 31,000 workers, masking the loss of 16,000 jobs from November.
An even 5.0 percent of Maryland's workers were out of work in November. "If unemployment fell, that's always good news," said Michael A. Conte, director of the University of Baltimore's Regional Economic Studies Program. "If it fell because of a slowdown in manufacturing and weak retail, it clearly moderates the joy you can feel from the news."
The state department of Labor Licensing and Regulation said December is usually a month when the jobless rate declines, because many construction and manufacturing companies impose short-term layoffs -- and their workers drop out of the labor force in anticipation of a quick call-back.
Seasonal hiring in retailing often offsets some job losses in December, making the bump downward in unemployment even jTC more pronounced. But the state said that didn't happen.
The lowest unemployment rates were in the Washington suburbs, especially Montgomery County's 2.3 percent. The highest were in Western Maryland's Garrett County (10 percent), and the Eastern Shore counties of Somerset (12.6 percent) and Worcester (15.6 percent).
The high unemployment numbers barely budge the statewide figures, however, because almost 2.4 million of the 2.7 million Marylanders in the work force live in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area.