D.C., Maryland and Virginia shed jobs in January as their unemployment rates fall

The District, Maryland and Virginia each shed jobs in January, according to a Labor Department report released Monday that provided the first snapshot of how the local labor market is faring in 2014.

Many business leaders and economists expect it to be a stronger year for hiring in the Washington region, in particular because Congress reached a deal on the federal budget that provides more clarity on funding, especially for contracting companies.

But the report on January hiring does not show any renewed strength in hiring.

Although jobs grew in the District in some industries — 200 positions added in the professional services sector, and 700 in education and health services — it lost 1,400 positions overall. The greatest losses were in the government category, which shed 2,500 positions. The unemployment rate in the District, however, fell to 7.4 percent in January from 7.6 percent in December.

In Maryland, 9,800 positions were lost. The state shed 800 jobs in the professional services category, which includes government contractors, and lost 1,200 positions in government. Maryland’s jobless rate fell from 6.1 percent to 5.8 percent.

Virginia’s education and health services sector grew relatively robustly, adding 6,400 jobs. But the commonwealth shed positions in most other industries in January, including 5,300 positions in professional services and 4,900 in government. Still, the jobless rate in Virginia fell to 5 percent from 5.2 percent.

Often when a drop in the unemployment rate is not accompanied by a surge in job growth, the declining rate is a signal that people have given up looking for work, so they are no longer counted as unemployed. However, that was not the case for the District, Maryland and Virginia. In each jurisdiction, the labor force grew in January, and the ranks of its unemployed shrank.

Stephen Fuller, an economist who directs the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, said that punishing cold weather and snow may help explain the dissonance.

“You can’t seasonally adjust for this winter. It’s an outlier,” Fuller said.

The national unemployment rate in January was 6.6 percent. It slid back up to 6.7 percent in February as the nation added 175,000 jobs.

Jobless rates fell in 43 states, rose in one state, and stayed the same in six. The highest rate, 9.2 percent, was again recorded in Rhode Island. The lowest rate, 2.6 percent, was in North Dakota.

Capital Business is The Post’s weekly publication focusing on the region’s business community. Read more about Washington business at capbiz.biz.

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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