By Donald C. Fry
The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent report brought some improved employment news for Maryland. Nevertheless, longer-term federal data puts into stark perspective the dramatic challenge the state faces if it is to regain pre-recession job levels.
First, the good news. July was a positive month for Maryland employment, with the state gaining 8,100 jobs.
Major employment sectors registering the largest increases were professional and business services, which gained 2,800 jobs, and the leisure and hospitality industry, which registered an increase of 2,700 jobs. Other major sectors that experienced job growth were trade, transportation and utilities, construction, and financial services.
Government employment in Maryland decreased by 2,200 in July. Education and health services, which lost 1,000 jobs, was the only other major sector where employment decreased.
Among eight Mid-Atlantic competitors, Maryland’s 0.3 percent job gain in July outperformed all but Delaware (+2,200 jobs, 0.5 percent) and the District of Columbia (+3,000 jobs, 0.4 percent). New Jersey also registered job gains (+1,800 jobs, less than 0.1 percent). North Carolina (-4,100 jobs), West Virginia (-2,300 jobs) and Virginia (-1,200 jobs) experienced employment declines in July, according to BLS data.
In July Maryland realized its second consecutive month of job growth for the first time this year.
This is encouraging. However, long-term federal data delivers a sobering reality about Maryland’s jobs picture: our state remains 88,600 jobs short of its overall employment level four years ago.
Since July 2007, six of seven major Maryland private-sector employment categories have lost jobs. Four have lost more than 15,000 jobs each. By far the hardest hit has been our state’s construction sector, which has lost 53,000 jobs since July 2007 – a 28 percent decrease. Other sectors where major job erosion has occurred include trade, transportation and utilities (-35,000 jobs), manufacturing (-19,000 jobs), and financial activities (-16,000 jobs). The leisure and hospitality sector has 2,000 fewer jobs than in 2007 and there are 500 fewer professional and business services jobs than there were in 2007.
Conversely, since July 2007 employment has increased by 26,000 in Maryland’s educational and health services sector. Government employment has increased by 18,000 jobs since then, driven primarily by an increase of 15,400 federal jobs in the state, most of which are BRAC related.
Overall state government employment has also increased – by 4,700 jobs during the last four years, all but 300 of which are in education sectors. Meanwhile, local government jobs have decreased by 2,100 since July 2007, according to BLS data.
The home building downturn is partly to blame, but the massive loss of jobs in our state’s construction industry is particularly troubling because this industry is also bearing the brunt of our state lawmakers’ long-standing reluctance to strengthen funding for Maryland’s neglected transportation infrastructure.
The jobs data over the last four years is brutal. But it serves to remind us of what needs to happen if Maryland is to move beyond this tenacious recession. Think about it: we need to create more than 88,000 jobs just to get even before we can grow from pre-recession employment levels.
Meanwhile, Maryland’s jobs data also confirms one fundamental characteristic of this recession that our elected leaders must recognize. Overall, this recession has been the hardest on private sector employment, not government employment.
The private sector will drive the recovery as well. But our lawmakers must back up their repeatedly-voiced commitments to job creation with insightful, well-thought-out policies that will enable private sector growth, and not inhibit it.