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March unemployment up in Va., down in D.C., same in Md.

By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 16, 2010; 5:10 PM

Unemployment rates in March were mixed in the communities surrounding Washington, according to federal government data released Friday, rising in Virginia, stabilizing in Maryland and dropping in the District.

Virginia's jobless rate rose to 7.4 percent from 7.2 percent in February, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The 7.4 percent rate is the highest since February 1983, when it was 7.6 percent, Virginia employment officials said.

Maryland's rate remained at 7.7 percent and the District's dropped to 11.6 percent from 11.9 percent. The District's rate is still higher than the national unemployment rate of 9.7 percent.

Virginia and Maryland, however, were the states with the biggest job gains, according to the BLS. The agency's survey of employers showed that Maryland added 35,800 jobs and Virginia gained 24,500. But economists said those gains were offset largely by an influx of unemployed people who resumed their job search after having left the labor force. Those so-called discouraged unemployed people are only counted in the jobless numbers when they actively search for work.

"I think you probably are seeing people come into the labor force. You do have that increase in the number of unemployed," said Ann D. Lang, senior economist at the Virginia Employment Commission.

Maryland experienced its first monthly jobs gain since February 2008, state officials said, and the number of jobs added was the most in a month since January 1970. "The numbers are pretty extraordinary," said Christian S. Johansson, secretary of the state's Department of Business and Economic Development. "Even accounting for some things that are anomalies, this is something we're encouraged by."

Employment in most sectors rose. Retail, transportation and utilities added 7,100 jobs from February to March. Professional and business services increased by 6,400 jobs, construction by 5,200, leisure and hospitality by 5,500, education and health by 5,100 and government by 4,600.

"We had an increase in unemployed people. . . . That tempers the good things," said Tim Bibo, research analyst at the Maryland Governor's Workforce Investment Board. "Some of the increase [is caused by unemployed] people returning to the labor market."

The District showed the most favorable trend, with employment increasing by 1,800 and the number of unemployed people dropping by 1,000, said Benjamin Orr, research analyst at Brookings Institution.

Most sectors showed a sharp uptick in new jobs, according to the city's Department of Employment Services. Professional and business services gained 3,900 jobs. After losing 1,000 jobs in February, construction grew by 1,900 positions. Leisure and hospitality increased by 1,200 jobs; educational and health services, 300; retail trade, transportation and utilities also rose by 300.

"Residents of the District are gaining jobs, but we don't know where the jobs are," Orr said. Hiring for the government census only partially explains the gains, he added. "The good news is there are other things going on besides the census that are increasing employment."

Twenty-four states recorded increases in their unemployment level in March, while 17 states and the District experienced declines. In nine states, joblessness remained unchanged.

Michigan again had the highest unemployment rate at 14.1 percent, while North Dakota's was the lowest at 4 percent.

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