Area unemployment rates were mixed in April

May 18, 2012

Unemployment levels in April fell in the District, increased slightly in Maryland and remained steady in Virginia, according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report released Friday.

The spring tourist season brought Virginia several thousand jobs in the leisure and hospitality sectors. Both Virginia and Maryland lost jobs in professional and business services, which may be connected to a slowdown in government contracting amid uncertainty over federal spending cuts.

The District’s jobless rate fell to 9.5 percent from 9.8 percent the month before, while Maryland’s rose slightly to 6.7 percent from 6.6 percent. Virginia’s unemployment level was unchanged at 5.6 percent.

Maryland lost 3,900 positions in leisure and hospitality, which James Bohnaker, associate economist Moody’s Analytics, said could be an adjustment for the unusually large growth across sectors in Maryland earlier this year. Because of the warm weather, employers in sectors such as leisure and hospitality and construction began their spring hiring earlier than usual this year.

“Maryland lost about 6,000 jobs from March to April, but that’s not as bad as it looks on the surface,” Bohnaker said. “We had a very mild January and February, and we saw really strong growth in construction, leisure and temporary jobs in the early part of the year, so that took a little bit of the growth out of March and April.”

Scott R. Jensen, interim secretary for the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, said in a call to reporters that job declines in leisure and hospitality are not uncommon in March and April. He also speculated that the loss of 2,200 jobs in professional and business services could be linked to the conclusion of tax season.

The District gained 1,200 jobs in education and health care services, with particularly strong gains in health care. That job growth comes with the aging of the population, according to James H. Moore Jr., deputy director of workforce services at the D.C. Department of Employment Services.

Moore said the boost also might have been fueled by the District’s One City One Hire program, which he said has placed 3,000 workers in jobs since its September launch through a combination of employer-matching and on-the-job training for D.C. residents.

“This is a good news story all around,” Moore said.

Virginia’s pattern of moderate growth held steady last month. The state’s 5.6 unemployment rate is tied with Minnesota for ninth-lowest in the country, according to Ann D. Lang, senior economist of the Virginia Employment Commission. The state did lose 1,700 jobs in professional and business services, which Lang said might be tied to government contracting and concern about government spending cuts in defense in 2013.

“Northern Virginia is still one of the strongest metro areas in the U.S., but professional and business services has been flattening out for the last several months because there is still some apprehension with regard to what will happen with the federal budget,” Lang said.

Overall, jobless rates fell in 37 states and the District, rose in five states and remained steady in eight states. Nevada had the highest unemployment rate, 11.7 percent, and North Dakota had the lowest, 3 percent.

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