Maryland employers added 4,500 jobs last month, but the hiring spree was not enough to keep the unemployment rate from edging upward.
The jobless rate rose to 4.4 percent from 4.2 percent in June, according to preliminary numbers released by the U.S. Labor Department yesterday. The data are adjusted for seasonal variations.
Those two measures of economic health don't always agree: They're culled from separate surveys, and some residents work out of state while some jobs are held by out-of-state residents. Economists say it's also possible that the increase in joblessness last month was a statistical blip.
"There's no reason to expect it to continue to rise," said Richard P. Clinch, director of economic research at the University of Baltimore's Jacob France Institute.
He and others aren't worried because they see no signs of a faltering economy. The number of jobs has grown by 59,000 over the past year, significantly above the 50,000 the state needs to keep up with population growth.
The last time Maryland enjoyed that sort of expansion was before the 2001 recession.
Anirban Basu, head of Sage Policy Group, a Baltimore economic consulting firm, pointed to the increase in Maryland's labor force over the past year as a sign that more people are willing to look for work. The number of people working or looking rose by 48,500 in the past 12 months.
"We have a rising unemployment rate and reasonably rapid job growth," Basu said. "What that tells us is that there is actually a healthy dynamic in Maryland's labor market. ... It is an indication of confidence among the work force in Maryland's economic prospects and its capacity to generate jobs."
The strongest sectors in the past 12 months were professional and business services, which added 18,300 jobs; leisure and hospitality, up 13,500; and education and health services, up 9,300. The long shedding of jobs in manufacturing continued: The sector lost 4,600 positions during the same 12 months.
Kirsten Sauter, business development specialist for the Baltimore and Owings Mills offices of staffing company Manpower Inc., is seeing a strong increase in demand for maintenance workers, along with an uptick in requests for housekeeping staff, drivers and bilingual customer service representatives.
"There are more opportunities out there," she said. "But I still get hundreds of calls every day" from people in need of work. "The applicants that I have aren't necessarily the right fit for the position I have open."
Clinch said high gas prices and rising interest rates could have a negative effect on job growth, but overall the outlook remains bright.
The university's most recent survey of Maryland businesses found that more than 60 percent expect job growth in the coming year and three-quarters expect revenue growth.
"They're very optimistic," Clinch said.