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Md. unemployment dips to lowest level since 2009

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland employers shed 7,100 jobs in January, but the state’s jobless rate fell to its lowest point in more than a year and a half, according to figures released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The state’s unemployment rate slid to 7.2 percent in January — it was 7.1 percent in May 2009 — after sitting at 7.4 percent for the last eight months of 2010.

The labor department also revised downward yearly job gains for 2010, meaning Maryland employers added 11,300 last year, instead of the initial estimate of 26,000.

Maryland “remains in a position to pull out of this national recession more quickly than other states,” Maryland Labor Secretary Alexander M. Sanchez said in a written statement.

Strong sectors in Maryland included retail trade, which added 2,200 jobs in January; health care, 2,000 jobs; and the federal government, 600 jobs. Construction and mining payrolls lost 2,300 positions; educational services, 4,500 jobs; and restaurants and hotels, 1,200 jobs.

The state’s unemployment rate remained well below the national average, which dropped from 9.4 percent to 9 percent in January. And state officials pointed to seven straight months of year-over year job growth as evidence of the state’s job market trending in the right direction.

January 2011 saw payrolls with 4,600 more jobs than January 2010, with 4,400 of them coming from the private sector. In contrast, payrolls were down 53,000 jobs in January 2010, and 63,000 jobs the year before that.

“I think this is obviously good news,” said Daraius Irani, director of the Regional Economic Studies Institute’s Applied Economics and Human Services group at Towson University. “It does reinforce to some degree that we are closer to the end of the recession than the beginning.”

Anirban Basu, chairman and CEO of Sage Policy Group Inc., said the employment data in January “was not pretty,” but added that the winter weather held back some hiring that could be reflected in February figures, as it was on the national level.

“The national labor market is gradually recovering and my sense is when we get the February data for Maryland, we’ll be able to say that Maryland’s labor market is gradually recovering as well,” he said.

The decline in Maryland’s unemployment rate was driven by 1,000 more state residents working in January than in December, and more than 3,000 dropping out of the labor force.

Irani said the discrepancy between the payroll figure, which measures staffing levels at Maryland employers, and employment numbers can be explained by state residents finding work in surrounding jurisdictions.

“A lot of people work in Washington D.C., Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia,” Irani said. “If they get a job there, they’re employed. We have a lot of people who do that in Maryland.

“The nice thing about Maryland is that from a tax point of view, it doesn’t matter if you work in Virginia, you get taxed where you live. But from an economic development perspective, you obviously want jobs coming into Maryland.”