Md., Va. shed employment in October amid government shutdown; D.C. job growth stalls

November 22, 2013

There were few reasons for optimism about the local job market in a report issued Friday by the Labor Department, which showed that Maryland and Virginia lost jobs in October and the District did not add any positions.

Maryland shed 400 jobs last month, after losing 8,500 jobs in September. The state’s unemployment rate held steady at 6.7 percent in October. Maryland’s greatest job losses were in the professional services sector, which shed 700 positions, and government, which shed 1,000 positions.

Virginia lost 5,400 jobs in October as its unemployment rate held steady at 5.6 percent. The commonwealth’s steepest loss was in the professional services category, which cast off 8,000 positions.

The job losses in the professional services sector, which includes the region’s throngs of government contractors, could be another sign that federal budget cuts are weighing on the Washington area labor market. And even as Virginia and Maryland’s unemployment rates remained unchanged, both jurisdictions saw a decrease in the labor force, meaning that many people probably gave up looking for work.

The District’s labor market was practically at a standstill last month, with no overall gain or loss in positions. It shed 500 jobs in the professional services sector and lost 300 positions in the education and health services industry. But it added jobs in some other sectors, such as trade and transportation, which gained 400 positions.

The District’s unemployment rate steadily declined throughout 2012, but the jurisdiction has struggled to continue that trajectory this year. The jobless rate leaped to 8.9 percent in October from 8.6 percent in September. That is the highest level of unemployment registered in the District since August 2012.

“These are poor numbers. The real question is, what do these numbers signify?” said Anirban Basu, chief executive of Sage Policy Group, a Baltimore economic consulting firm. “If these numbers are merely an indication of the dislocation that occurred prior to and during the government shutdown, these numbers are not nearly as meaningful. If, however, those numbers reflect the beginning of a trend . . . that, of course, would be more problematic.”

The Labor Department does not typically release two months’ worth of economic data at once. The department, however, had to rearrange its schedule after the government shutdown put its work on hold for much of last month. The department released state employment reports for both September and October on Friday.

The national unemployment rate fell to 7.2 percent in September, only to inch back up to 7.3 percent in October.

Jobless rates increased in 11 states and fell in 28 states. They were unchanged in 11 states. The highest level of unemployment, 9.3 percent, was recorded in Nevada. The lowest jobless rate, 2.7 percent, was recorded in North Dakota.

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 economics news.
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