Unemployment steady in D.C., up slightly in Maryland and Virginia

October 21, 2011

Unemployment remained at a near-record high of 11.1 percent in the District in September and crept up slightly in both Maryland and Virginia, to 7.3 percent and 6.5 percent, respectively, according to a Labor Department report released Friday.

Despite the addition of 1,700 jobs between August and September, the jobless rate in the District is up 1.4 percent percentage points from the level of a year earlier and remains above the national average of 9.1 percent.

The District has the third-highest unemployment rate in the nation, after Nevada (13.4 percent) and California (11.9 percent). The state with the lowest jobless rate is North Dakota, at 3.5 percent.

Lingering unemployment in the District can be attributed to a cyclical drop-off in demand in some sectors, a mismatch between the skills unemployed workers have and those employers are looking for, and the long-term unemployed struggling to find work, said James Moore, deputy director of the Office of Policy, Performance and Economics at the D.C. Department of Employment Services.

In September, the District saw job losses in construction, leisure and hospitality, and trade, transportation and utilities. The sectors that gained jobs were professional and business services, financial activities and educational and health services. In all, the private sector added 2,700 jobs, while the public sector lost 1,000 jobs, according to the D.C. Department of Employment Services.

“Until we see consumer confidence pick up and employers begin to add to payrolls, unemployment will hover around double digits,” Moore said.

Unemployment in Virginia rose for the third consecutive month, inching up to 6.5 percent from 6.3 percent in August. However, the number of Virginians receiving regular unemployment benefits dropped nearly 0.4 percent, from 54,043 in August to 52,137 in September.

“I think the modest pace of growth the state has experienced has slowed a little bit,” said Ann D. Lang, senior economist at the Virginia Employment Commission. “The recovery has been slow — you’ve seen that nationally. I think we’re feeling that here also.”

Maryland’s jobless rate rose to 7.3 percent from 7.2 percent, but the state added 10,000 private-sector jobs in September — a rate five times the national rate of growth, state labor officials said.

“Nearly 5,900 Marylanders who weren’t working in August have found jobs,” Alexander M. Sanchez, secretary of the state’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, said in a news release. “Still, there are signals that Maryland — like all other states — is still in recovery.”

Employment typically increases in September because of the reopening of schools and colleges, Lang said.

Moore said he expects the holiday season to bring some retail jobs but said that will have minimal overall effect on unemployment. “I don’t expect another recession, but I don’t expect much growth, either,” he said.

Catherine Ho covers law and lobbying for the Capital Business section of The Washington Post. She previously worked at the LA Daily Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Detroit Free Press, the Wichita Eagle and the San Mateo County Times.
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