August’s jobs numbers have landed on Maryland with a resounding thud — another 2,500 jobs lost and an increase to 7.3 percent in the statewide unemployment rate.
Employment gains in some sectors (14,700 jobs have been added since January) have been overwhelmed by losses elsewhere. Alexander M. Sanchez, state Secretary of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, sees more of the same in Maryland’s immediate future.
“That’s pathetic,” said Darius Irani, of the Regional Economic Studies Institute, referring to the most recent unemployment numbers. “Given our cyber-centric economy, we should expect it to increase more. Instead we’ve been shedding jobs.”
Secretary Sanchez says a national recovery is needed to lift Maryland out of the employment doldrums. While it’s hard to argue with that, it’s not exactly encouraging or inspiring news for the state’s struggling businesses and residents. With Congress and the president at loggerheads on virtually everything, we need to be doing everything we can at the state level.
That’s why we were encouraged when Gov. Martin O’Malley said several days after the latest bad employment news that he is “considering” adding job creation legislation to the agenda of the special General Assembly session in October. That session’s primary task is to redraw the state’s congressional district lines, but other items can be added to the agenda, and in this case, they should.
We don’t know what the governor is considering, because he offered no specifics. But we do know, as we have said before, that job creation is the foundation of economic recovery, and Maryland has lagged in this vital area. The state’s job creation numbers over the 12-month period ending in August showed a net gain of 3,600 jobs, for 40th place among the 50 states, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
That is indeed pretty pathetic, especially given Maryland’s highly educated, highly skilled workforce and the much-heralded influx of BRAC jobs into the state.
So we urge Gov. O’Malley and legislative leaders to think aggressively and creatively in terms of what the state can and should do to stimulate job creation in the private sector. There may be ways to fast-track construction for needs such as schools and transportation infrastructure. There may be tax credits, temporary or permanent, or regulatory or policy reforms that would make sense.
We also have to look hard at existing tax credits and other economic development efforts to be sure those funds are being spent well and that those programs are having the desired effect.
All of this must be done while state leaders are confronted with as much as a $1 billion shortfall in the 2011-12 budget and the urgent need to provide more money to meet pressing needs for roads, bridges, ports and mass transit.
These decisions must not be made in a vacuum. They have interlocking effects, and what may help one area may hurt another. Yet the worst option is to do nothing or to wring our hands and wait for federal help. The problem is here and now, and the solutions must begin here and now.