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Area unemployment rates were mixed in March

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The Washington area felt the mixed effects of a winter hiring surge in March, according to a Labor Department report, as unemployment figures landed all over the charts. The jobless rate rose in Maryland, dropped in Virginia and remained steady in the District.

Maryland’s unemployment level increased to 6.6 percent in March from 6.5 percent the month before, according to the report released Friday. Virginia’s jobless rate dipped to 5.6 percent from 5.7 percent, while the District’s stayed at 9.8 percent.

Friday’s results looked lackluster compared with the more positive Labor Department reports from previous months, which showed steady declines in unemployment levels in all three jurisdictions. Still, all three reported significant job gains in some sectors in March. Maryland, for example, added 3,400 jobs in professional and business services.

The welcome dip in unemployment levels over the winter was later attributed partly to the unusually mild weather. Employers in sectors such as leisure and hospitality and construction had begun their spring hiring earlier than usual, pushing down the jobless rates. That new job activity spurred many long-term unemployed people to resume their search for work, adding to the unemployment rolls in Maryland and the District. The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not count people who are out of work and have stopped looking for a job in its unemployment figures.

“There was a big jump in the labor force. More people are getting back looking for work, but there were not enough jobs to go around,” said James Bohnaker, associate economist at Moody’s Analytics.

In March, Maryland lost jobs in construction, 1,200; education and health, 1,100; and manufacturing, 800. But those losses were offset by gains elsewhere: professional and business services, 3,400; leisure and hospitality, 3,000; retail, 2,700; and government, 2,700.

“I don’t think this [rise in unemployment] changes the overall trend line we’ve seen for the last year,” Alexander M. Sanchez, secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, said in a conference call with reporters. He said the state has added 49,600 jobs since March 2011.

“I don’t think it’s unusual for people to come back to the workforce because we have been adding jobs,” he said. “We’ve said for a year [there are] going to be ups and downs.”

The District gained 1,300 jobs in government, 900 in leisure and hospitality, 700 in professional and business services and 600 in education and health. Only one sector lost jobs — financial activities, 100.

Those job gains, though, were offset by 800 people entering the labor force. “Individuals feel there are opportunities, so they are getting off the bench and getting back into the game,” said James H. Moore Jr., deputy director of workforce development for the D.C. Department of Employment Services.

Unlike Maryland and the District, Virginia’s labor force dipped slightly, meaning fewer people said they were looking for work.

The state gained 5,500 jobs in leisure and hospitality, 2,300 in education and health and 1,100 in construction, but it also suffered heavy losses — professional and business services, 5,700; retail, 3,400; and government, 1,000.

“You are seeing a seesaw pattern — up and down,” said Ann D. Lang, senior economist at the Virginia Employment Commission. But job growth is “still above a year ago.”

Unemployment levels in Virginia and Maryland remained below the national rate of 8.2 percent for March, while the District still surpasses it.

Jobless rates fell in 30 states, rose in eight and remained steady in 12 states and the District. Nevada recorded the highest unemployment rate, 12 percent, and North Dakota reported the lowest, 3 percent.

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