And on the heels of job losses in important sectors in January, Virginia posted an increase of 16,900 jobs, and its rate was unchanged at 5.6 percent.
There was no clear pattern among the job gains and losses across the three jurisdictions, with the sectors that provided a boost in one area causing a drag on job growth in another. The District shed jobs in every sector except in leisure and hospitality, where it added 600 positions. Although that industry was not previously thought to have been a strong driver of recent growth in the region, freshly revised data showed it was the Washington area’s second-biggest job creator last year.
“Many consumers have been suffering from a case of frugality fatigue and are pulling out the credit card” at local leisure outposts, said Anirban Basu, chief executive of Sage Policy Group, an economic consulting firm in Baltimore.
Virginia’s job growth came from the education and health services sector, where it added 7,800 jobs. The commonwealth also saw solid gains in the construction industry, which added 6,500 jobs in February. Experts say the improved housing market could be propelling construction hiring in this region and elsewhere.
“We’re increasing our volume of construction, and when we do that, we need more subcontractors, for one, but we also need more employees,” said Jerry Berman, Washington area president of M/I Homes. “We’re going to wind up this year hiring more employees, no question about it.”
Virginia also added 2,300 jobs in the professional services industry.
Maryland’s largest job gains came from the government sector, where 4,500 jobs were added.
“For now, at least, the rebound in local government hiring is more than offsetting any loss of [federal] agency employment,” Basu said.
In the private sector, growth was a bit more modest, with the biggest gain — 1,900 jobs — coming from the professional services industry.
Maryland says it has now recovered 94 percent of the jobs it lost during the recession.
The national unemployment rate dipped from 7.9 to 7.7 percent in February. The Labor Department is set to release March employment figures Friday, which should provide clues as to how the labor market is faring after the onset of automatic federal spending cuts known as the sequester.
Jobless rates dropped in 22 states, increased in 12 and were unchanged in 16. Three states tied for the nation’s highest jobless rate; California, Mississippi and Nevada each registered unemployment of 9.6 percent. The nation’s lowest rate, 3.3 percent, was recorded in North Dakota.