Joblessness Spikes to 11.1 Percent in D.C., Eases in Va. and Md.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
The unemployment rate for the District rose dramatically to 11.1 percent in August, the highest level since July 1983, but fell for the second consecutive month in Virginia and stabilized in Maryland, according to government data released Friday.
Some employment experts attributed the disparity to the higher proportion in the District of undereducated employees in low-wage jobs that are more vulnerable to cuts. Meanwhile, in Virginia and Maryland, the labor market is showing signs of a turnaround, evidenced by a slowing of layoffs and a surge of jobs created by stimulus dollars.
The District's unemployment rate jumped to 11.1 percent in August from 10.6 percent in July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. About 36,000 District residents were jobless in August. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) announced new programs Friday aimed at providing 20 more weeks of unemployment benefits to people whose federal aid has run out and preparing them for new jobs.
"There are families who are struggling trying to find work in these very difficult economic times," Fenty said in a statement. "This additional assistance will help alleviate some of the burdens felt by many households in the District. The new programs also provide opportunities for our unemployed workers to sharpen their skills, learn a new trade, or go back to school and prepare to re-enter the job market."
The unemployment level in the District for several months has surpassed the national rate, now at 9.7 percent, while Maryland and Virginia are below it.
Maryland's rate has remained at 7.2 percent since June. The Labor Department on Friday adjusted the state's July rate from 7.3 percent to 7.2 percent.
In Virginia, the rate dropped to 6.5 percent in August from 6.9 percent in July.
The three jurisdictions' share of the billions of dollars in federal stimulus money has finally materialized and resulted in road construction jobs, according to Anirban Basu, chief executive of Sage Policy Group, a Baltimore economic and policy consulting firm. Recent national data, he said, show "that Maryland and Virginia have more jobs per job seeker than any other state in the country."
Unemployment rose in 27 states and the District, but fell in 16 states and remained unchanged in seven others. Michigan has the highest jobless rate, 15.2 percent, and North Dakota has the lowest, 4.3 percent. While Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke has said the recession may be over, many economists agree that hiring will be slow and that the jobless rate may not substantially drop for at least a year.
From July to August, the District lost 9,100 jobs, including 4,800 in the private sector and 4,300 in the public sector, according to the city's Department of Employment Services. Professional and business services lost 2,100 jobs; hospitality and leisure, 800; educational and health services, 500; the federal government, 200; and the D.C. government, 4,100, mainly participants in the summer youth job program.
"Disproportionately, the jobs held by D.C. residents are not stable jobs in the federal government, contracting or in health services, but rather in segments subject to the economic downturn -- in restaurants, retail and commercial construction," Basu said.
Maryland and Virginia officials said they think the data demonstrate that their states' unemployment rates have bottomed out.
"We're stabilizing," said Andy Moser, assistant secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. "We're not on a downward spiral everyone was on last spring, last winter and last fall."
William F. Mezger, chief economist for the Virginia Employment Commission, said job claims were down and the pace of layoffs decreased in August. "We had over 7 percent unemployment in June," he said. "We probably won't see it again in '09 the way it looks now."