The Washington region added 66,600 jobs in 2016 as the District’s unemployment rate finished the year at 5.8 percent — its lowest point since 2008 — according to new government data. Maryland’s unemployment rate held steady at 4.2 percent and Virginia’s dropped slightly to 4.1 percent.
The growth came as the national economy continued to gain strength, despite the tumult of an unpredictable presidential race. Throughout 2016, the D.C. area consistently added jobs at a faster pace than the nation as a whole.
“I think 2016 will go down as quite a good year for the Washington metro area economy on many dimensions including employment,” said Anirban Basu, an economist with Baltimore-based Sage Policy Group.
In a departure from the norm, the jobs report released Tuesday found the District added jobs more quickly than either Northern Virginia or suburban Maryland, and yet the unemployment rate fell, suggesting those seeking jobs found them.
The biggest gains regionally came in professional and business services, healthcare and the federal government, according to an analysis by the Stephen S. Fuller Institute at George Mason University.
It’s too early to tell how the regional economy will fare under President Trump. The new president ordered a federal hiring freeze this week.
Those keeping tabs on the local economy generally agree that in the short term such a freeze is unlikely to do real damage the D.C. economy, despite the region’s dependence on federal spending.
What really matters, they say, is how federal budgets will change under Trump and where federal money will be spent.
The government data released Tuesday “relate to the Washington D.C. area economy under the Obama administration,” Basu said. “They don’t speak to how it will be under the Trump administration. He has called Washington a swamp and he doesn’t seem to have much sympathy for the federal worker.”
The hiring freeze “could be hollow, but it does set a tone about the administration’s intentions,” said Stephen S. Fuller, an economist with George Mason who studies the local economy. He said the region is being buffered for now by the progress it has made in recent years to build a base of business not tied to the fortunes of the federal government.