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Md., Va. jobless rates up; economists link increase to snowstorms

Career consultant Edna Owens, standing, helped Shirley Matthews, 70, last month at the Prince George's County Economic Development Corp. job center in Largo.
Career consultant Edna Owens, standing, helped Shirley Matthews, 70, last month at the Prince George's County Economic Development Corp. job center in Largo. (Marvin Joseph/the Washington Post)
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By V. Dion Haynes
Saturday, March 27, 2010

Unemployment rates rose in Maryland and Virginia in February, according to government data released Friday, and economists attributed the increases to last month's heavy snowstorms, which closed schools, businesses and even the federal government.

Virginia's jobless rate rose to 7.2 percent from 6.9 percent, and Maryland's rose to 7.7 percent from 7.5 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The District's unemployment rate, meanwhile, dropped to 11.9 percent from 12 percent.

Economists linked the two states' rising jobless rates to a confluence of factors, including the weather. The February storms shut down most retailers, forcing many hourly workers without annual leave days to file for unemployment benefits.

Unemployment rates are also rising, particularly in Virginia, because many long-term unemployed people, who had suspended their job searches, see signs of hiring and have resumed looking for work, economists said. The bureau counts only unemployed people who are actively seeking a job in its data.

"I think the labor force is growing faster than employment -- that's definitely a factor" in why Virginia's jobless rate is up, said Mohammad Qamar Siddiqui, regional economist at IHS Global Insight.

Virginia's 7.2 percent jobless rate is its highest since February 1983, according to the Virginia Employment Commission. Ann D. Lang, senior economist at the commission, said the state lost twice as many jobs last month as it did in February 2009, and she suspects the jump is partly weather-related.

In Maryland, after seeing more long-term jobless people resume their search for work in January, state labor officials say the situation is reversing. Job losses are mounting in manufacturing, construction, retail and local government, and fewer discouraged unemployed people are returning to the workforce.

Officials in the District attribute its rate decline to job growth in some sectors and a reduction in losses in others. Only the District and seven states saw their jobless rates fall.

Still, the city's unemployment rate is well above the national 9.7 percent rate for February.

The District may "have reached the peak of unemployment," Siddiqui said. "It seems like it . . . might start going down in the second quarter."

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