Maryland businesses added 3,600 jobs last month, but unemployment edged up slightly as a nationwide economic slump began to drag on the region's employers.
The jobless rate rose to 3.6 percent from 3.4 percent in February, preliminary data released yesterday by the U.S. Labor Department show. Despite the increase, the region's job seekers are still much better off than the nation as a whole, which saw unemployment climb to 5.1 percent in March from 4.8 percent in February.
Maryland remains among the top 10 states with the lowest unemployment rate, which economists attribute to the region's abundance of high-paying government, health care and education-related jobs.
Employers in Maryland added 24,900 jobs in the 12 months ended in March, the data show.
"It's certainly not bad in light of how weak the broader economy has been nationally and how weak certain segments of Maryland's economy have become," said Anirban Basu, chief executive of Sage Policy Group, a Baltimore economic consulting firm.
The state's financial sector has been hard-hit as fallout from the slumping housing market and credit crisis ripple through the economy. The sector has seen jobs decline, along with many manufacturers and construction businesses. But strong employment in health care, education, professional services and other sectors have helped take up the slack, Basu said.
Maryland largely escaped the last nationwide recession in the early 2000s because of increased government spending and employment - particularly in the area of homeland security.
This time might be different, Basu said, because the nationwide downturn has coincided with lower consumer confidence and rising costs for everything from food to fuel.
Consumer spending accounts for about two-thirds of the economy.
"I would expect increased unemployment in the months ahead," he said.