D.C. area job market shows signs of modest improvement

After getting off to a slow start in 2014, the Washington area job market is showing signs of a modest pickup.

A Friday report from the Labor Department showed that the District added 3,500 jobs in April, while Maryland added 9,300 positions. Virginia managed to gain only 200 positions overall, but it saw growth in the critical professional services and government sectors. The ranks of the unemployed also shrank in each jurisdiction.

“One could say that’s certainly a positive sign that the economy is regaining its footing after a cold winter,” said Stephen Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University. “The first quarter was pretty ugly.”

Washington area economists and business leaders had forecast that the local labor market would improve moderately this year. But in the first three months of 2014, the market showed few signs of becoming healthier. The region’s biggest sector, the professional services industry, saw its largest year-over-year job loss on record. This fresh data may be an indication that government contractors and other businesses in this category are beginning to have improving conditions. In the District, the sector added 700 positions in April. Maryland added 3,100 professional services positions, while Virginia added 2,000.

The District’s unemployment rate remained unchanged, at 7.5 percent. In addition to the growth in professional services, the District added 600 construction jobs and 400 positions in trade, transportation and utilities.

In Maryland, the jobless rate dipped from 5.6 percent in March to 5.5 percent in April. The state gained 1,900 construction jobs and 1,700 government positions.

Virginia saw its labor force swell, with 16,000 more people in April as its unemployment rate held steady, at 4.9 percent. The increase in the labor force could be a sign that more people have begun job searches now that this year’s punishing winter has passed.

The national unemployment rate dropped to 6.3 percent in April, its lowest level since 2008, while the economy added a robust 288,000 jobs. While those top-line numbers looked favorable, analysts were quick to point out that plunge in the unemployment rate as largely attributable to a decline in the size of the labor force.

Jobless rates fell in 43 states in April. Just two states saw rates increase, while five states saw no change.

Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economic news.
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