Automatic federal spending cuts did not appear to be a major drag on job growth in the Washington region in April, according to data released Friday that showed a drop in the unemployment rate for all three jurisdictions.
The Labor Department’s report showed an area jobs market that was not markedly different from before sequestration went into effect on March 1. The employment picture was brightest in Virginia, where 12,000 jobs were added and the unemployment rate fell from 5.3 to 5.2 percent, its lowest level since 2008. Most sectors added jobs, including those that would be most likely to feel the effects of the sequester. The professional services industry, which includes government contractors, added 4,300 jobs, more than any other sector. The government added 1,000 jobs.
The data offered mixed signals about the health of the labor markets in Maryland. The state’s jobless rate fell from 6.6 to 6.5 percent, the lowest level recorded there since January 2009. However, the state shed 6,200 jobs, backpedaling after four straight months of job gains.
The greatest job gains in Maryland came from the government sector, which added 2,400 positions. The trade sector, which includes retail businesses, increased by 2,300 jobs between March and April. But the state lost 2,000 jobs in professional services, one of the cornerstones of its economy. It also shed 4,200 jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry, which has lately been a key propeller of job growth in the region.
In both Virginia and Maryland, the federal government lost several hundred jobs, which is consistent with the slow drain it had seen before the onset of the sequester. In Virginia, the greatest government job growth was from the local government subcategory; In Maryland, it was the state government subcategory.
The reason Virginia’s job market is faring better than Maryland’s has to do with the types of employers in each state, said Stephen Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University.
“Virginia has more diversified economy. It has more strength in areas that are continuing to grow nationally,” Fuller said.
While the District’s unemployment rate dipped to 8.5 percent after holding steady at 8.6 percent for three months, the report offered few other reasons for optimism. The District’s hospitality industry added 1,200 positions, but almost every other sector lost jobs. The government shed 2,300 jobs; education and health services lost 600 positions.
“The caution flag is up for the District,” Fuller said. “There’s no overwhelming contraction going on; it’s just a stalled economy.”
All three jurisdictions suffered losses in the construction industry, a sign that perhaps improvement in the local housing market is not necessarily translating into job growth. Maryland shed 1,300 construction jobs; the District, 400; and Virginia, 700.
The national jobless rate dipped to 7.5 percent in April, its lowest level in more than four years.
Unemployment rates dropped in 40 states, increased in three and held steady in seven. The nation’s highest unemployment rate, 9.6 percent, was recorded in Nevada. North Dakota posted the lowest rate: 3.3 percent.