The Washington region has weathered the economic downturn better than most of America. But the latest state figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show it is not immune to job losses. The numbers are encouraging for the District, but not so good for Virginia and worse for Maryland, which lost 11,000 jobs last month and posted the third worst jobs performance in the nation for the second month in a row.
D.C.'s 9.1 percent unemployment rate is still significantly higher than the 8.2 percent national average. But it represents a 0.2 percent decrease, and is also the lowest it's been since March 2009, when the nation was still reeling from the 2008 collapse of the housing and credit markets. Although 32,167 District residents remain jobless, nearly 700 managed to find work last month. That's something to celebrate.
Virginia's jobless rate ticked up slightly, from 5.6 to 5.7 percent. This is still well below the national average, but negative job growth is not even sufficient to provide employment for all the commonwealth's recent June graduates, let alone make a dent in its long-term unemployment rate.
Unemployment in Maryland increased a modest 0.2 percent last month to 6.9 percent. But unlike D.C., Maryland's jobless trend line is heading in the wrong direction, steadily inching up since January -- when it was 6.5 percent. Another worrisome trend: 7,600 of the jobs lost in Maryland last month were in education and health care, the same sectors that produced the largest job gains in D.C.
Larry Hogan, president of Change Maryland, points out that Maryland has lost 40,000 jobs since Gov. Martin O'Malley took office in 2007. During that same time period, neighboring Virginia -- which has 40 percent more residents -- lost only 32,000 jobs. Both states retain their coveted Triple-A bond ratings, but both are heavily dependent on federal defense spending, and thus more vulnerable than most to deep sequestration cuts if Congress fails to avert the "fiscal cliff" by New Year's Day.
University of Maryland/College Park business professor Peter Morici recently warned that "the U.S. economy is teetering on the brink of another recession ... and if it hits the mat again, it's down for good." If that happens, it could take the weakened and supposedly "recession proof" Washington region down with it.