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Jobless rate dips in D.C., steady in Maryland, Virginia

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 25, 2011; 6:40 PM

The unemployment rate fell slightly in the District in December but stayed steady in Maryland and Virginia, according to Labor Department data released Tuesday. The numbers reflect an up-and-down labor force in which some of the long-term jobless have finally found work while previously stable sectors had unexpected hiring slowdowns.

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The District's jobless level, which had risen one-tenth of a percentage point the month before, dropped by that same amount to 9.7 percent in December, according to the data. Maryland's rate remained at 7.4 percent and Virginia's at 6.7 percent.

The U.S. unemployment rate fell by four-tenths of one percentage point to 9.4 percent in December.

Virginia and Maryland were among 15 states whose unemployment rates remained the same. The District and 15 states showed a drop, while jobless levels rose in 20 states.

Sara Kline, an associate economist at Moody's Analytics, attributed the lower D.C. jobless rate to an influx of long-term unemployed people who had resumed their job searches and found work.

"You're starting to see people who were discouraged by the lack of opportunity becoming encouraged," Kline said.

In December, employment in the District grew by 1,109 while the number of unemployed people dropped by 285, according to the Labor Department. "They're coming back and finding jobs - and that's helping contain the local unemployment rate," Kline said.

Yet December was an unusually volatile month in the region, analysts said, showing both progress and some regression. Sectors such as professional and business services slowed unexpectedly in all three jurisdictions. In the District and Virginia, there were net losses in leisure and hospitality, and financial services. In addition, retail jobs fell in all three jurisdictions, partly attributed to the holiday churn of temporary jobs.

The mixed picture was particularly evident in the D.C. data. Professional and business services, which had a net gain of 1,900 jobs in November, were down by 2,000 jobs in December. Leisure and hospitality, which was up 200 jobs in November, was down by 300 in December. Retail showed a loss of 700 jobs.

In Maryland, where the unemployment rate remained at 7.4 percent for the fourth consecutive month, professional and business services had a net loss of 500 jobs. Retail was down 2,500 jobs, education and health were down 1,500 jobs, and government was down 1,000. Sectors that improved were leisure and hospitality, up 700 jobs, and financial services, also up 700.

Even with the losses, Maryland experienced a significant turnaround in 2010, said Alexander M. Sanchez, secretary of the state's Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

"This is the seventh consecutive month in which jobs are up from the previous year," he said. "Since the lowest part of our trough in February, we've gained 42,500 jobs."


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