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State jobless rate declines


Maryland's unemployment rate dropped for the third straight month in March, falling well below the national average of 4.3 percent, according to state labor department figures released yesterday.

The state's unemployment rate fell to 3.5 percent in March, down from 4.1 percent in February. Economists were upbeat about the overall health of Maryland's economy, but said the worst may be yet to come.

"There have been numerous layoff announcements in Maryland over the past two months, and the impact of those layoffs have yet to be felt," said Anirban Basu, chief economist for Towson University's RESI Research & Consulting arm. "They will be felt more forcefully during the second quarter. ... I think we're in the worst period right now. We just don't have the figures to support this yet."

The state's declining unemployment rate bucked the rising national rate for the third straight month and, despite their predictions of short-term weakness, analysts said the mid-Atlantic region is among the healthiest in the country.

"Maryland's economy is doing very well, and I think the Washington metro area is a big influence for that," said Jeff Petry, an economist who watches Maryland for Economy.com in West Chester, Pa. "The reason why is there's still strong job growth in suburban Maryland. The Washington metro area is growing at three times the U.S. pace, and Maryland is benefiting from that."

The metropolitan Baltimore area had a jobless rate of 3.9 percent, down from 4.3 percent in February.

In Baltimore, the jobless rate declined to 7.0 percent, from 7.6 percent in February.

While unemployment declined in all 24 of Maryland's jurisdictions, Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore showed noticeable improvement.

The jobless rate in Western Maryland - which includes Allegany, Garrett and Washington counties - dropped to 5.9 percent from 7.3 percent in February. In Talbot and Caroline Counties on the Eastern Shore, the unemployment rate fell to 4.4 percent, down from 5.5. percent in February.

"The whole mid-Atlantic region is one of the healthier regions in the U.S.," Petry said, noting its good mix of industries, from telecommunications to biotechnology. "And the federal government provides a backbone to the whole region."

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