By V. Dion Haynes
Saturday, June 19, 2010; A14
Unemployment rates in the District, Maryland and Virginia fell in May, according to government data released Friday, marking the second consecutive monthly decline for all three jurisdictions and illustrating the growing recovery in the region's labor market.
The District's drop in unemployment was the most dramatic of the three localities, falling to 10.4 percent from 11 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Maryland, the rate decreased to 7.2 percent from 7.5 percent, while Virginia's rate fell to 7.1 percent from 7.2 percent.
The declines are attributable to real job growth in the public and private sectors, analysts said, rather than an artificial deflation of the rates caused by a reduction in the labor force that occurs when long-term "discouraged" unemployed people stop looking for work.
"We're in a robust employment region. We're doing very well," said Mitchell Halaby, senior executive recruiter at Ajilon Finance, a subsidiary of the Adecco employment agency. "But if you're still not working, regardless of how the economy is doing, to you the economy stinks."
The region's job growth bucked the U.S. trend for May, when only 41,000 private-sector jobs were added nationwide. Although 700 private-sector jobs were lost in the District, 11,000 were added in Virginia and 4,800 in Maryland, said Anirban Basu, chairman and chief executive of Sage Policy Group, a Baltimore economic and policy consulting firm.
"Two in five of the private-sector jobs added across the country came from Maryland and Virginia," Basu said. The three jurisdictions "continue to be healthier than the rest of the country from a labor market perspective."
Still, the region's job gains in May were not as strong as they were in April -- the first month since the recession began that jobless rates fell simultaneously in all three jurisdictions. The slower growth could reflect the hiring of fewer census workers and continued job market volatility, economists said.
In the District, the labor force grew by 800 in May, officials said. The professional and business services sector showed the biggest increase; after losing 600 jobs in April, it added 500 jobs last month. The city's May employment gains still pale in comparison with the growth of March and April, when it added 9,600 and 4,700 jobs, respectively.
"D.C. was not quite as good as Maryland and Virginia," said Sara Kline, associate economist at Moody's Analytics. "D.C. [benefited from] more federal government hiring."
Maryland added 11,200 jobs in May, despite major layoffs at Legg Mason, General Dynamics and BP Solar, Basu said. That compares with 12,800 gained in April. In May, the federal and state governments added 6,300 jobs; the leisure and hospitality industries added 4,300; and the construction industry added 1,700. Those gains were somewhat offset by net declines in such sectors as education and health services, which lost 1,700 jobs.
Virginia's employment rolls grew by 20,300, ranking it among several states with the highest increase in jobs for the month. In April, the state added 28,000 jobs. Among the sectors that gained jobs in May were leisure and hospitality (10,200), professional and business services (4,600) and construction (2,500).
Hiring "wasn't as strong as the previous month. But at least it was still positive, and you had the unemployment rate come down a little bit," said Ann D. Lang, senior economist at the Virginia Employment Commission. "The concern is [in the next few months] you'll lose census workers, and how will that play out? Will there be private-sector job gains to offset those losses?"
The District's unemployment rate remains the highest among the three local jurisdictions and ranks above the national average of 9.7 percent. Still, it has fallen for five consecutive months, according to the city's Department of Employment Services, and is now at its August 2009 level.
Unemployment rates dropped in the majority of states -- 37, according to the Labor Department. The state with the highest unemployment rate was Nevada, at 14 percent, supplanting Michigan, which had been No. 1 in joblessness since April 2006. Michigan's unemployment rate for May was 13.6 percent. North Dakota had the lowest unemployment rate, 3.6 percent.