An increase in jobs - and a decrease in the number of people looking for work - pushed the unemployment rate in Maryland to 3.8 percent in December, down from 4 percent the month before, the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation reported yesterday.
People found jobs in transportation, finance, real estate and business services during the month, the department reported. That pushed December's employment level to 2.77 million, an all-time high for the month.
Typically, seasonal layoffs push up the unemployment rate in December, but the number of workers hired during the holidays by retailers and by other employers more than offset the losses, the state agency said.
Job were cut in construction, and seasonal losses were recorded in hotels, amusements and agricultural services. Temporary furloughs were also made in manufacturing.
The state outperformed the nation, which had an unemployment rate of 6 percent in December and 5.7 percent in January.
Maryland has fared relatively well through the recession and posted an unemployment rate below the national level since 1996, said Richard Clinch, director of economics for the Maryland Business Research Partnership at the University of Baltimore.
"We're looking at two things here, the adequate job creation, which is good, and the number of people who stopped looking for work, which is obviously bad," he said. "There are plenty of able-bodied people who could work. We call them discouraged workers. The unemployment rate is based on a survey that asks only, 'Are you employed or are you looking for work?'"
But, in general, Maryland has not lost as many jobs as the rest of the country because of the federal government, which buys the state's defense-related manufactured products and services, leases space and employs residents.
James D. Fielder Jr., acting secretary of the DLLR, said Maryland performed well in a weak economic environment.
"The decrease in Maryland's unemployment rate demonstrates the adaptability of the work force even during these difficult times," he said.
Regionally, the Baltimore metropolitan area reported an unemployment rate of 4.1 percent. Howard County had the region's lowest unemployment rate, 2.4 percent, followed by Carroll County, 2.6 percent; Anne Arundel, 3.0 percent; Harford, 3.6 percent; Baltimore County, 4.0 percent; and Baltimore, 6.9 percent.
Elsewhere in the state, Maryland's Washington suburbs reported a 3 percent rate; Western Maryland, 4.7 percent; Talbot-Caroline, 3.7 percent; and Wicomico-Somerset, 4.6 percent.