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Maryland Unemployment Numbers Tick Downward

The statewide unemployment rate has fallen to 6.9 percent, while Montgomery County's rate remains well below the state average.

In news likely to add to the holiday cheer for leaders of the local economy, unemployment levels in Maryland fell in November, marking the biggest monthly improvement in state jobless numbers since the start of the 2008 recession.

The official unemployment rate dipped to 6.9 percent, down from 7.2 percent in October, according to Alexander Sanchez, secretary of the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

The statewide figures are consistent with the trend at the local level, said Steven Silverman, director of the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development.

“We don’t have the final figures for November yet, but the latest numbers from October show us at a 5.2-percent unemployment. Hopefully, we’ll dip below the five-percent level,” when the latest statistics are analyzed, Silverman said.

The monthly improvement in job numbers is attributable to a rise in private-sector hiring, particularly in retailing businesses, Sanchez said.

Private-sector employers created some 4,300 jobs in November, he said, while public-sector jobs were cut. About 2,300 state and local government jobs were lost, and another 500 federal government jobs were cut, Sanchez said.

Maryland state and county unemployment numbers are based on data prepared by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Economists such as Neil Bergsman of the Maryland Budget & Tax Policy Institute have noted the BLS statistics undercount the true number of jobless workers by ignoring so-called “discouraged” workers—unemployed people who have ceased to actively look for new jobs—and the underemployed.

Including such workers would , Bergsman said recently. The local Montgomery County rate for discouraged and underemployed workers would not be as high because of local conditions, according to Bergsman, but it is still significant.

Silverman commented that while new job creation remains slow, “part of our local strategy is to make sure that we keep what we already have.” The county does that by offering benefits to employers who resist the temptation to relocate jobs to lower-cost areas, he said.

He cited the announcement late last week that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had agreed to a new 15-year lease on office space in Silver Spring for some 4,200 federal employees.

The lease represents the retention of jobs that have long been located in Silver Spring, but the local landlord faced spirited competition from real estate developers in Prince George’s County and elsewhere, Silverman said.

The Montgomery County government offered landlord Foulger-Pratt Companies a grant worth $12 million to improve the property, according to Silverman. Such assistance was crucial in winning the lease and retaining 4,200 jobs, he said.

“A lease like this has a lot of impact. We would have to work for years and years to replace 4,200 jobs if they had been lost,” Silverman said.

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