Maryland bleeds jobs in July, District and Virginia revert to slow growth

Last month, it appeared the Washington-area labor market was finally on the verge of a turnaround, with employers cranking up hiring after an anemic start to the year.

New data released Monday has largely dashed those hopes.

Unemployment levels in the District, which had been falling, remained flat at 7.4 percent in July, according to the latest report published by the Labor Department, while the jobless rate inched up by a 10th of a percentage point in Virginia, to 5.4 percent. Still, both added jobs, with D.C. adding 400 workers while Virginia’s employment increased by 14,000.

Not the case in Maryland, which suffered the second-most job losses in the country in July — shedding 9,000 positions (second only to Ohio) — and watched its unemployment rate jump from 5.8 percent to 6.1 percent.

“It was really ugly last month,” said Stephen Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, noting that the region’s labor market cannot seem to sustain the same recovery momentum as the national economy. “This is pretty discouraging, because there had been some improvement in May and June, but the numbers have clearly slowed down again.”

Maryland’s government jobs decreased by 5,500, while the state shed 5,400 positions in education and health services. Meanwhile, its employment in professional services fell by an additional 2,000 positions.

Collectively, that was more than enough to wipe out the state’s relatively small gains in construction, manufacturing, transportation and financial services. All told, the number of unemployed Marylanders ticked up from 180,200 in June to 190,200 in July.

Maryland’s gubernatorial campaigns jumped on the job losses. Republican candidate Larry Hogan blamed Gov. Martin O’Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, the Democratic candidate, saying in a statement that their “failed policies ... have crushed Maryland job creators, and have made it more difficult for average Marylanders to support themselves and their families.” Justin Schall, Brown’s campaign manager, said that “Hogan has refused to unveil a single detail for how he would create an atmosphere for job creation.”

In Virginia, construction firms led the way last month, adding more than 4,000 workers, while not single industry in the District showed much movement in either direction. The ranks of the unemployed increased from 227,200 to 230,400 in the commonwealth and edged up from 27,300 to 27,500 in the District.

No industry posted employment gains in all three jurisdictions in July.

“Maryland, Virginia and D.C. really suffered from the cutbacks in federal spending, and that seems like old news, but it’s a cumulative effect,” Fuller said. “So stuff that started years ago keeps showing up in the unemployment numbers, and we keep seeing less activity.”

John Wagner, in Annapolis, contributed to this report.

J.D. Harrison covers startups, small business and entrepreneurship, with a focus on public policy, and he runs the On Small Business blog.
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