Unemployment Dips in D.C. and Virginia in July, Rises in Maryland

By Annys Shin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 22, 2009

Unemployment fell in the District and Virginia in July as students found jobs or left the workforce, while it increased slightly in Maryland due to a surge in job seekers, new government data show.

In the District, unemployment edged down from a seasonally adjusted rate of 10.9 percent to 10.6 percent, the Labor Department reported.

More than 13,000 jobs were added to District payrolls last month, a larger number than for most states. City officials said the increase was largely due to the summer youth employment program. The District still leads the region in unemployment with a rate that remains significantly higher than it was a year ago, when it stood at 7 percent.

A growing number of economic forecasters are saying the worst recession of the post-World War II era is close to ending or has already ended. And the manufacturing sector has lately begun to show signs of stabilizing. But the labor market is likely to be weak well after the recession ends. The national unemployment rate edged down in July to 9.4 percent, from 9.5 percent, due in part to people leaving the workforce and not being counted as unemployed. The Labor Department data released Friday showed unemployment rose in 26 states. Jobs remain scarce, with six unemployed people for every opening and a record one out of every three unemployed people being out of work for 27 weeks or longer.

Across the nation, Michigan still has the highest unemployment rate at 15 percent. The Labor Department will release unemployment data for the Washington metropolitan region as a whole on Sept. 1.

The July unemployment rate in Virginia was 6.9 percent, down from a revised 7.1 percent in June. In July 2008, the rate was 4 percent. Over the past 12 months, Virginia has shed 104,000 jobs.

William F. Mezger, chief economist for the Virginia Employment Commission, attributed the drop to the timing of the survey, which was later than usual and picked up people who had just returned to work from vacation furloughs. Furloughs were up 60 percent over last year and mostly took place in June through early July, Mezger said.

The timing of the data collection also excluded graduating students who had been looking for work in May and in June. They have either found work or left the workforce. And the size of the labor force overall increased because of a normal surge in agricultural workers.

However, there were early signs of a strengthening labor market in the July data, Mezger said. The number of self-employed increased, which he said was typical toward the end of recessions. As the economy improves, these entrepreneurs, who consist mainly of professionals such as architects, engineers and computer programmers, start to expand their businesses and to hire.

Weekly hours worked in manufacturing also rose for the first time in roughly a year, Mezger said, from 41.9 to 43 hours.

"That's an encouraging sign. It means orders are starting to come in and employers are working existing employees overtime," he said.

In Maryland, the jobless rate rose to 7.3 percent in July, up from a revised 7.2 percent. State officials attributed the bump up to an increase in the number of job seekers, which they said was higher than the increase in the number of unemployed.

State officials said preliminary estimates show that employment on Maryland's industrial payrolls trended upward during July, with a seasonally adjusted gain of 10,000 jobs. Both public- and private-sector payrolls expanded, with gains in the private sector spurred by the continuing slow but steady growth in health care and accommodations and food services.

A year ago, the unemployment rate in Maryland was 4.4 percent. Over the past 12 months, the state has shed 50,300 jobs.

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