Unemployment rates tick up in D.C., Maryland, Virginia

The first state-level unemployment report for 2013 offered mixed signals about the health of the labor market in the Washington area, with unemployment rates ticking up in January in the District, Maryland and Virginia, even as two of the jurisdictions added jobs.

Maryland gained 6,700 jobs, and the state posted the highest number of jobs on its payrolls in nearly five years. Still, the jobless rate rose to 6.7 percent from 6.6 percent.

The employment picture was gloomiest in Virginia, where unemployment crept up to 5.6 percent from 5.5 percent. The commonwealth shed 3,900 jobs between December and January, with the losses coming largely from two important sectors.

Virginia shed 4,100 jobs in the professional services sector, which has long been a cornerstone of its economy. It lost an additional 4,200 jobs in the education and health services sector, an industry that has recently been a bright spot.

“It does point to the kinds of changes that are likely to be visible now, measurable, the rest of this fiscal year” because of tightened federal spending, said Stephen Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University.

The District added 1,500 jobs in January, while its unemployment rate rose to 8.6 percent from 8.5 percent.

The rate increase is a result of more people entering the labor force in Washington, said James Bohnaker, associate economist with Moody’s Analytics.

Bohnaker was encouraged by the small bump in jobs in the District’s construction industry. Employment in this industry rose by 300 jobs, bringing it within striking distance of the 22-year high it hit last fall.

“It’s not a huge part of the economy, but it’s definitely an indicator that the housing market is turning around,” Bohnaker said.

The greatest job gains in the District came from the professional services industry, which added 1,000 positions. Maryland’s largest job gains also came from this sector.

The national unemployment rate rose to 7.9 percent in January and slipped to 7.7 percent in February.

Jobless rates rose in 25 states, fell in eight, and were unchanged in 17 states. With unemployment rates of 9.8 percent, California and Rhode Island registered the nation’s highest levels of unemployment. That marks the first time since 2010 that Nevada has not posted the highest jobless rate. The lowest unemployment rate, 3.3 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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