Unemployment rate climbs slightly in D.C.; levels hold steady in Va., Md.

By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 18, 2010

Unemployment levels in November rose slightly in the District and remained steady for the third consecutive month in Maryland and Virginia, according to government data released Friday, demonstrating sustained job growth that is not rapid enough to put more people back to work.

The District's jobless rate rose to 9.8 percent from 9.7 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The D.C. number was in line with the nation's overall unemployment rate, which rose to 9.8 percent in November from 9.6 percent the month before.

Maryland's jobless rate was stable, at 7.4 percent, as was Virginia's, at 6.8 percent.

The jobs picture was largely mixed across the country. Rates last month rose in 21 states and the District, dropped in 15 states and were unchanged in 14.

Unlike much of the United States, the Washington area is gaining jobs. The District, Maryland and Virginia were listed among states with "significant" employment gains from November 2009 to November 2010. The District gained a net of 24,300 jobs, while Maryland added 31,100 and Virginia added 48,500.

Yet the unemployment rates have not dropped to reflect the job increases. That's because people unemployed for a long time, encouraged by news of hiring, have flooded into the labor force to resume their search for work. Those who still haven't found jobs were again counted in the unemployment numbers.

Experts say that's partly why the District's unemployment rate rose last month.

"It's a positive sign to see the labor force growing - people are coming back to look for work," said Sara Kline, associate economist at Moody's Analytics. "But that causes an uptick in the unemployment rate."

Even with the slight rise, however, the District's year-over-year unemployment rate has fallen dramatically - to 9.8 percent from 11.6 percent. Last month the city had a net gain of 360 unemployed people, Kline said, but there was also a net increase of 1,300 employed people.

Private-sector employment grew slowly in retail and in leisure and hospitality. Employment grew faster in professional and business services.

"We're seeing companies hold Christmas parties this year. They're spending money on employees," said Mitch Halaby, senior executive recruiter for Ajilon Finance, a D.C-based firm.

"We're seeing an increase in the hiring of people for professional services - consultants, attorneys and accountants," he added. "When companies start hiring [for those jobs], it means they're thinking, 'How can we grow?' "

Nevada had the highest unemployment rate, 14.3 percent. North Dakota had the lowest, at 3.8 percent.

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