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Weather a culprit in weak Md. employment numbers

In the midst of yet another snowstorm Monday, Maryland officials and area economists blamed harsh January weather for weak state employment numbers.

Winter Weather Maryland

Snow rests on outdoor furniture in a park in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Maryland lost 9,800 jobs in the month, according to preliminary results from the Bureau of Labor Statistics — 1,200 in the public sector and 8,600 in the private sector.

“When one looks at the January employment numbers of Maryland, it’s very simple to conclude that the job loss in the state is largely attributable, if not wholly attributable, to the weather,” said economist Anirban Basu, chairman and CEO of Sage Policy Group Inc. “The weather has interrupted Maryland’s economic momentum.”

The state unemployment rate dropped to 5.8 percent in January, from 6.1 percent in December. The size of the labor force increased slightly from December, while the seasonally adjusted number of unemployed people decreased.

This is likely due to some people giving up on their job searches, said Basu, which removes them from the “unemployed” status. Nonetheless, he said, the inconsistency between unemployment and jobs added “leaves open the question of how Maryland’s economy is doing.”

“There might be more at work here in the weather, but we just can’t tell,” he said.

Maryland’s labor secretary also pointed fingers at Mother Nature.

“While this month’s report reflects losses from recent extreme seasonal factors, it also shows that our investments in skills development and training are helping to put more Marylanders back to work,” said Maryland Labor Secretary Leonard Howie in a statement. “We’ve driven down Maryland’s unemployment rate to its lowest level since 2008.”

When left unadjusted for seasonal temporary hiring, the percentage of unemployed people actually increased from 5.6 percent in December to 6.1 percent in January, which correlates better with the number of jobs lost.

Susan Steward, an economist for the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University, said that other economic indicators bode well for the state, particularly in the housing market — the number of existing homes sold in Maryland increased by 1.1 percent in January, compared to a year before, and median house price rose by 5.5 percent.

But hiring processes can be severely disrupted by the weather, she said, if companies were forced to cancel interviews due to weather.

Compared to the rest of the nation, Maryland is likely average when it comes to the economic impact of weather, she said.

Basu agreed. It’s better prepared than Georgia, he said, but probably not as well-equipped as Minnesota.

And it’s not just sectors like construction that suffer, he said. Activity in retail, leisure and hospitality are chilled during winter storms as people choose to stay inside or work from home.

“That means they’re not going out for lunch in the Inner Harbor, they’re not out doing other things,” said Basu.