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Private sector pushes jobless rate down

Maryland’s jobless rate dropped to 6.9 percent in November as payrolls swelled in the state for the third straight month, according to figures released Tuesday by the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

The private sector did all of the heavy lifting, adding 4,300 jobs last month while government employment declined by 2,300, according to the preliminary, seasonally adjusted data.

Labor officials also revised upward job gains made in October to 7,400. The unemployment rate was 7.2 percent that month. The state added 6,800 jobs in September.

That trend, particularly the private sector hiring, bodes well, said Daraius Irani, director of the Regional Economic Studies Institute’s Applied Economics and Human Services group at Towson University.

“There’s a feeling among many in the business community that Maryland is a business-unfriendly state,” he said. “So if we’re creating new private sector jobs, that’s a very good thing.”

Maryland has added 27,000 jobs in 2011, the largest January to November job growth since 2005.

November is the first month since May that the unemployment rate has fallen below 7 percent. The 0.3 percentage point decline is the largest single-month fall since the start of the recession, said Maryland Labor Secretary Alexander M. Sanchez.

But he warned there likely remain bad months ahead for the state’s employment picture.

“We still do not expect it to be a consistent trend line for us. We expect lots of ups and downs,” he said.

There is a “long way to go” to erase the impact of the recession on the state’s labor market, Sanchez added.

Indeed, employers have added 18,300 workers since last November, but payrolls are still 82,400 short of the February 2008 peak of 2.62 million Maryland jobs.

Action — or inaction — on Capitol Hill, the European debt crisis, political unrest in Russia and a shifting balance of power in the Middle East as the war in Iraq draws to a close could all disrupt the economic recovery here, but Irani said the chances of another recession are slim.

“Despite the president and Congress, we will muddle through,” he said.

Growth in the retail sector of 2,600 jobs led Maryland’s private sector in November. Construction added 1,100 workers. The professional, scientific and technical services sector and hotels and restaurants both added 1,800.

Administrative and support services saw the largest decline, 3,400 jobs. Wholesale trade shed 1,800 jobs and manufacturing, 1,500. State government shed 2,300 positions, a decline the labor department blamed on the expiration of economic stimulus programs.

November was a positive month for most states, with 43 of them and Washington, D.C., seeing their jobless rates decline. The nation’s unemployment rate fell to 8.6 percent last month from 9 percent the month prior.

Maryland’s unemployment rate is among the lowest in the region, second only to Virginia’s 6.2 percent.

Pennsylvania’s rate was 7.2 percent in November; Delaware, 7.6 percent; West Virginia, 7.9 percent; New Jersey, 9.1 percent and North Carolina, 10 percent.