Md., D.C. unemployment levels dipped in December; Va. remained steady

January 24, 2012

Unemployment levels in December continued to fall in the District and Maryland but remained steady in Virginia, according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report released Tuesday.

As government employment declined amid uncertainty over anticipated cuts in federal spending, the three jurisdictions showed sizable private-sector growth: Maryland and the District gained health-care positions, while Virginia added restaurant jobs.

The District’s jobless rate fell to 10.4 percent from 10.6 percent the month before, while Maryland’s dropped to 6.7 percent from 6.9 percent. Virginia’s unemployment level was unchanged at 6.2 percent.

“This is another round of encouraging data showing momentum” in the Washington region, said James Bohnaker, associate economist at Moody’s Analytics who studies the Washington region.

“The labor force picked up in December from November,” he said. “We’re seeing more workers come into the labor force and unemployment go down.”

Maryland’s unemployment rate dropped to its lowest level since February 2009, said Alexander M. Sanchez, secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. The state gained 2,300 jobs in leisure and hospitality, and 2,300 in education and health. State officials attributed the health-care jobs to an initiative aimed at boosting the number of primary-care physicians by up to 25 percent over the next 20 years.

“The state’s commitment to implementing health-care reform . . . certainly is a catalyst for the health-care sector adding 8,100 jobs since January” of last year, said Sanchez’s spokesman, Michael Raia.

The state added a net of 4,300 government jobs in December, 4,000 of which were at the state and local levels. But Raia attributed that gain to a lag in the federal government’s reporting of educators who were hired in the fall.

Maryland sectors that lost jobs were professional and business services, down 2,200; construction, down 1,900; and retail, down 1,200.

Virginia’s unemployment rolls dropped by 1,726, while employment levels rose by 10,281, said Ann D. Lang, senior economist at the Virginia Employment Commission. “We didn’t have enough [of a change] to lower the unemployment rate,” she said.

Still, the state had significant gains in private-sector employment: professional and business services, up 5,800 jobs; leisure and hospitality, up 3,200; and education and health, up 1,800.

Lang said the job gains boosted “professional business legal services, computer system design, architectural and management consulting.”

She said that in the leisure-and-hospitality sector, “most of the gains were in food service. That would be an indication that [consumers’] discretionary spending is improving with more people eating out.”

Virginia lost jobs in manufacturing, down 1,700; construction, down 1,500; and government, down 1,200.

The District’s jobless rate fell for three consecutive months, down from a high of 11.2 percent in September. The city added 2,700 jobs in education and health, and 500 in professional and business services. It lost 200 jobs in construction and 200 in financial services.

“The District continues to see overall progress in job growth,” said James H. Moore Jr., deputy director of the Department of Employment Services policy office. Contributing to the job growth, he said, was a city program that encourages businesses to hire D.C. residents.

Virginia and Maryland fall well below the national unemployment rate of 8.5 percent, while the District remains above it.

Unemployment levels fell in 37 states and Washington, rose in three and were unchanged in 10. Nevada ranked first in unemployment with a 12.6 percent rate. North Dakota had the lowest rate, 3.3 percent.

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