Maryland officials credit traditional seasonal hiring for pushing the state's unemployment rate down to 4.4 percent_the lowest level for a May since 1974.

"The improvement in the unemployment rate is directly attributed to seasonal hiring during the month of May, specifically improvements in eating and drinking places, hotels and lodging places, amusement and recreation services, construction, real estate and agribusiness," Curtis Kane, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Employment and Training, said Monday.

Kane, who noted Maryland's jobless level has fallen steadily from the January 1985 rate of 6.1 percent, said it would be difficult to project if the downturn would continue. April's unemployment rate was 4.8 percent.

"It's difficult to determine mainly because during June we have an influx of students looking for work. That will cause the labor force to shift," he said.

The unemployment rate in the Maryland suburbs of Washington fell from 2.9 percent to 2.6 percent.

In the Baltimore metro area, the jobless rate fell from 5.6 percent in April to 5.3 percent in May. The unemployment rate in Baltimore city dropped from 7.1 percent to 6.8 percent, while it declined markedly from 6.3 percent to 4.9 percent in Harford County.

In the rest of the state, the unemployment level fell from 7.3 percent in April to 6.2 percent in May.