Md. jobless rate increases to 4.6%

The Baltimore Sun

Maryland's unemployment rate rose in September to 4.6 percent, the Labor Department said yesterday. That continues a climb tied to turmoil in the national economy.

The state's jobless rate increased from 4.5 percent in August, on a seasonally adjusted basis, making Maryland one of 21 states to record month-to-month increases in joblessness in September.

More than 138,000 Maryland residents are seeking work but are unable to find it, a 33 percent jump since the beginning of the year, the federal government said.

"It's pretty much the same story all over the country," said Mark Vitner, a senior economist with Wachovia Corp. "Everything points in the direction of more job losses, because it looks like the economy is going to continue to deteriorate well into 2009."

The housing slump has led to job losses in construction and mortgage finance. Stock market declines are taking a toll on household wealth, and a pullback on consumer spending has dampened retail sales, Vitner said.

Maryland's unemployment rate has been rising since July. It first hit 4 percent this year in May, Bureau of Labor Statistics data show.

But Maryland's rate remains below the national unemployment rate, which was unchanged in September at 6.1 percent, the government said. The national rate is up from 4.7 percent in September 2007.

"Maryland and Baltimore, we do expect to outperform the U.S. average, as the U.S. falls into recession," said Robert Dye, a senior economist with PNC Financial Services Group in Pittsburgh. "Baltimore will enjoy a degree of insulation from the recession with its concentration of government and service sector employees."

States with the highest unemployment rates were Rhode Island, with 8.8 percent, Michigan, with 8.7 percent, and eight other states with unemployment of at least 7 percent, including California, Nevada and North Carolina. Washington, D.C., had 7 percent unemployment.

None of the recent turbulence in the stock market and investment bank failures is reflected in September's numbers, Vitner said, which means the rates are expected to continue creeping up, likely to the 4.7 percent or 4.8 percent range in Maryland. PNC Financial expects unemployment to reach 5 percent in Maryland next year, Dye said.

Though Maryland employers have continued adding jobs on a month-to-month basis for much of the year, preliminary employment numbers for September show 1,000 fewer jobs than in August. On a year-over-year basis - not adjusted for seasonal variations - employers statewide have added more than 28,000 jobs, according to the BLS.

Nationally, employment in nonfarm sectors fell by 159,000 jobs, with losses in construction, manufacturing and retail trades, the Labor Department said. Financial jobs also were hard hit in September, with a 17,000-job reduction, nearly half of it at securities and investment firms. Health care continued to add jobs, the government reported.

Tim Namie, the area manager for Manpower Professional, which links employees and workers in the professional services sector, predicted many businesses will do more outsourcing, hiring contractors and consultants: "They still need people and skills, but will ... get them without hiring permanently."

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