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Unemployment rises, but Md. leads in innovation

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews

Maryland’s unemployment rate ticked higher again in May as the state shed 7,500 jobs during a time of continued softness in the U.S. labor market, according to figures released Friday morning by the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. Despite the slight increase, Maryland’s unemployment rate remained nearly 20 percent below the national average.

Labor officials did, however, offer a glimmer of good news — April’s job loss total was revised down to 5,400 from the 6,000 that was first reported.

Maryland also received good news from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In a report this week, the business group ranked Maryland as the top state for innovation and entrepreneurship due in large part to the strong research base here and the InvestMaryland program championed by Gov. Martin O’Malley last year.

The program raised $84 million this year that will be invested in young, high-tech Maryland companies.

In a statement Friday, O’Malley called the jobs report “disappointing,” but pointed to the job-creating potential of InvestMaryland and other state initiatives as part of the antidote to the ongoing economic turbulence.

“This week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranked Maryland #1 in the nation for entrepreneurship and innovation, and in the Top 5 states for economic performance – for the third year in a row,” O’Malley said. “It is not by chance, but because of the choices we’ve made together to expand opportunity and invest in the skills, talents, innovation and education of our people so they can compete and win in the New Economy.”

The unemployment rate was 6.8 percent in May, up from 6.7 percent in April.

The natural resources, mining and construction sector took the biggest hit, some 4,600 jobs. The biggest drops within the sector were among special trade contractors, a group that includes plumbers and electricians. Despite the drop, construction employment is still higher than it was a year ago.

Professional and business services, normally a strong sector for Maryland, shed 3,100 jobs last month. Administrative and support services, a subsector, accounted for 2,600 of those lost jobs. According to labor officials, employment and temp agencies were the primary source of that decline.

The services sector was still up 11,200 jobs on the year despite the May slump.

May’s losses also sharpened the contrast between the divergent fortunes of the public and private sectors in Maryland.

Long a bulwark against the worst of economic downturns in the state, the public sector has instead become marked by months of job losses and slack hiring. Instead, it is Maryland’s private sector that is responsible for the stronger-than-average bounce back from the recession.

Since May 2011, Maryland has added 35,600 jobs, all but 700 of them in the private sector. Last month saw government employment slide by 1,300 jobs.

The unemployment rate has dropped from 7.1 percent a year ago.

The corresponding May survey of Maryland households —jobs figures are culled from a survey of businesses, but the unemployment rate comes from a survey of state residents — shows the number of unemployed people in Maryland has fallen by 10,133 over the last year.

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Nick Sohr

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