State's jobless rate up in Aug.


Maryland's unemployment rate edged up in August to 4.3 percent, its highest level since December, according to figures released yesterday by the U.S. Labor Department.

The report, which is preliminary, also showed that the state's civilian labor force declined by 2,354 workers to 2.95 million in August from the prior month, while the number of people employed slipped by 7,100 to 2.82 million over the same period.

While Maryland's unemployment rate has been ticking up since June, when it was at 3.9 percent, and 4.1 percent in July, it remains more than a full percentage point below the national average and is among the lowest in the country, leading area economists to point to the state's economic vigor.

"Fundamentally, the Maryland economy remains strong," said Richard P. Clinch, director of economic research at the University of Baltimore.

"This is not an economy under a great deal of stress," he said. "This is not a number that is worrying to me."

"The economy, except for manufacturing, seems to be kicking right along," added Charles W. McMillion, president and chief economist at MBG Information Services, a Washington-based business information analysis and forecasting firm.

James D. Fielder Jr., secretary of the state's Department of Labor, Licensing & Regulation, said Maryland has created about 50,000 jobs over the past 12 months.

The state's unemployment rate in August was the 13th lowest out of the 50 states, and more than a percentage point lower than the national rate of 5.4 percent.

"Year-to-date, we are showing growth in all sectors except manufacturing," said Fielder, who noted that unemployment could improve as the numbers are adjusted.

Indeed, manufacturing has struggled as the sector has continued to shrink over the past 12 months, according to the federal data. But construction and mining, professional and business services, and leisure and hospitality have grown robustly over the same period.

Anirban Basu, chief executive of Sage Policy Group, a Baltimore-based economic and consulting firm, said he expects job creation in Maryland over the next 18 months to be "respectable."

"It is quite possible that in the September number we'll see a ... decrease in the state unemployment rate," he said.

Clinch said Maryland's economy has been impressive and resilient. The last time the state's unemployment rate hit 5 percent was January 1998.

"It took us seven years from the 1991 recession to get below 5 percent in unemployment and, despite the fact that we have been through a pretty substantial national recession, we have never gone back above that number," Clinch said.

"That is the sign of a strong economy," he said.

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