After having substantially dropped this year, the unemployment rate in the District jumped to a nearly record high of 11.1 percent in August from 10.8 percent the month before, and is again climbing steadily in Maryland and Virginia, according to a Labor Department report released Friday.
Experts tracking unemployment data in the Washington region expressed concern because the jobless rate in the three jurisdictions has moved up over the past few months while remaining steady at the national level. They attribute it in part to the reluctance of employers in the area to accelerate hiring, stemming from their uncertainty over the outlook for federal spending.
Early this year, the District’s unemployment level had dropped to 9.5 percent, but it is now nearing its record of 11.6 percent reached in February 1983. The Labor Department has been keeping records on the District since January 1982.
“This is concerning. Obviously, the national unemployment rate has stabilized, but the District’s unemployment rate is continuing to rise and is now approaching its highest rate ever,” said Benjamin Orr, a research analyst at the Brookings Institution.
“I’m pessimistic — that [jump in the rate] in five months is pretty serious,” Orr added. An unemployment rate above 11 percent “is a difficult position not only for the District, but you have to think about all those people behind the numbers and how they’re dealing with being unemployed.”
The District’s jobless level surpasses the national rate of 9.1 percent for August, while Maryland and Virginia are well below it. Maryland’s rate rose to 7.3 percent from 7.1 percent and Virginia’s to 6.3 percent from 6.1 percent.
Private employment in D.C. did relatively well in August, experts said. Professional and business services, along with the leisure and hospitality sector, both gained a net of 800 jobs. Financial services gained 400 jobs.
But the public sector took a big hit. Government lost 13,500 jobs, the vast majority of which were at the local level.
James H. Moore Jr., deputy director of the D.C. Department of Employment Services’ Office of Policy, Performance and Economics, said that about 12,000 of those losses resulted from the ending of the summer youth jobs program. Still, Moore said, D.C. is now offering incentives — tax credits and job training largely financed by the city — to employers who hire District residents.
“The goal is to at least . . . get 10,000 District residents hired over the course of a year,” Moore said. “That will have a tremendous impact on the number of people who are unemployed” in the city.
Maryland’s job picture was nearly the reverse of the District’s: The government sector gained a net 6,900 jobs, while the private sector suffered. Information lost a net 4,400 jobs, which state officials attributed mostly to the Verizon strike. Financial activities dropped 1,400 jobs, and professional and business services lost 1,100.
Despite seeing 14,700 jobs added since the beginning of the year, state officials expressed frustration in the inconsistency of the gains.
“It’s been choppy — up and down. We want to see the numbers for job creation go up” more, Alexander M. Sanchez, secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, said in a conference call Friday. “We can’t point to any area that’s particularly good or particularly bad.”
Virginia’s unemployed population grew by 9,535 from July to August, the highest increase since April 2009.
The state gained 900 jobs in retail, 800 in education and health and 600 in financial activities. But it lost 3,500 in professional and business services, one of the main economic drivers in the Washington region.
“Businesses are uncertain, consumers are uncertain. You aren’t going to have growth in hiring because you aren’t seeing demand,” said Ann D. Lang, senior economist at the Virginia Employment Commission.
“There are also [federal] policy uncertainties — I just think that makes people nervous,” Lang added.
Unemployment levels rose in 26 states, dropped in 12 states and remained steady in 12 states.
Nevada had the highest unemployment rate — 13.4 percent. North Dakota had the lowest — 3.5 percent.