Maryland’s economy gained 11,900 jobs in August and the state’s unemployment rate decreased from 6.0% to 5.9%, according to preliminary data released by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday morning.
The latest numbers mean that the state’s unemployment rate is at its lowest level since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic more than 18 months ago.
“The fact that Maryland’s unemployment rate is higher than the national rate is a bit concerning,” Washington County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Paul Frey told MarylandReporter.com. “Some of the factors negatively impacting employment figures in Maryland have not changed, including that many parents (and, mainly, women) are still hesitant to go back to work because of the prevalence of Covid in the schools. Many schools are quarantining students at home if they contract Covid and/or if they come into contact with other students who have contracted Covid. And parents cannot send their children to daycare for the same reasons.”
Frey added: “Also, a large number of families still have Covid relief money saved up, and are waiting to see how the virus does, or does not, continue to impact the workplace. Once that money is exhausted, and once a bit more data becomes available about the resurgence of Covid, I believe there will be an increase in people going back into the workforce.”
Until then, labor shortages may continue to be a pervasive problem in certain sectors of the economy, Frey said.
“A number of employers, like hospitals and manufacturers, are having to hire replacements for some former employees that have changed employers, but not their occupations, having been lured away by higher wages in this very competitive labor market.”
Sen. Johnny Ray Salling, R-Baltimore County, who sits on the Budget and Taxation Committee, said that he too is “concerned” about the state’s higher than average unemployment rate.
Salling noted that many businesses are still having a “hard time” finding qualified applicants to fill jobs.
Salling said part of that problem can be attributed to fact that many Marylanders were “dependent” on federal unemployment benefits for so long and had few incentives to return to work until those benefits expired on Sept. 6.
Salling said that right now there is considerable “opportunity” in the job market, pointing to the thousands of wind energy jobs that are expected to come to Sparrows Point, and said he expects the unemployment rate to “drop again” in the near future.
Frederick County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rick Weldon said the state’s economy is facing a “moment of uncertainty.”
“That uncertainty, while nearly impossible to define, is affecting hiring, prices, public education, childcare, consumer confidence, gatherings, and investment. When we examine the details of these reports at the national, state, and local levels, there are also some concerning indicators related to minorities and underserved populations. I suspect that these elements of uncertainty are going to continue to impede workers and employers for the foreseeable future.”