Job growth in the D.C. region continued to accelerate in March, as the number of jobs in the metropolitan area grew by 2.8 percent from a year ago, outpacing the nation as a whole.
The region added 86,600 jobs in the one-year period ending in March, most of them coming in the Maryland and Northern Virginia suburbs, according to government data released this morning. Nationally, job growth grew by 2 percent.
“This is pretty spectacular,” said Stephen Fuller, an economist at George Mason who studies the regional economy, “and we’re riding the crest of a pretty strong national economy.”
Maryland did particularly well last month. The state added 19,300 jobs in March — the largest monthly employment jump of any state — but experts caution that such blips can reverse themselves quickly.
According to Anirban Basu, a regional economist who focuses on Maryland, the temporary spike is likely due to the warm weather. Construction sites that laid dormant during Washington’s frigid February started moving again, he says, causing the D.C. metropolitan area to tack on about 12,100 new jobs in that sector.
But even if March was an anomaly for Maryland, the state economy’s performance over the last year has been strong: Suburban Maryland added just over 30,000 jobs in the one-year period ending in March.
“Job growth presently in Maryland is as good as it has been during any point this century,” Basu said. “You’d have to go back to [the year] 2000 to see a bigger year-over-year jump in jobs in Maryland.”
When taken as a percentage of where it was a year ago, the rate of growth in Maryland is stronger even than Northern Virginia. But when you look at the absolute number of jobs added, Northern Virginia is still the region’s strongest magnet for jobs.
Northern Virginia added 42,400 jobs in the last 12 months, and unemployment in the state ticked down a 10th of a percentage point to 4 percent. That’s the lowest the jobless rate since the state’s pre-recession glory days, and among the lowest unemployment anywhere in the country.
The good news on Virginia’s unemployment front is tempered by the fact that fewer people are looking for jobs. The size of the labor force declined slightly in March for the second month in a row. By contrast, Maryland’s 4.7 percent unemployment rate was unchanged despite a sizable increase in the number of job-seekers, suggesting more people are finding work in the state.
The District’s unemployment rate remain stable at 6.5 percent, compared to a national average of 5 percent. D.C. added 2,400 jobs in March.
In a departure from past jobs reports, the combined strength of jobs in retail, construction, hospitality and leisure – industries fueled mainly by consumer spending – outstripped the professional and business services category that includes government contractors.
Those jobs tend to pay less than the highly-specialized technology jobs that often flow federal spending. Still, jobs in professional and business services added a respectable 24,100 jobs regionally over the past year.
It’s the middle of the spectrum that seems to be suffering.
“About two thirds of the jobs we’re adding are below the mean and the rest are above,” said Fuller. “But the middle has hollowed out.”