After three straight months of gains in the job market, Maryland experienced a loss of 3,100 jobs in November, according to preliminary federal data released Friday.
Almost half the country lost jobs last month, with Maryland ranking 10th in job loss. By comparison, New York had 33,500 job losses and Louisiana had 16,900.
The loss follows a trend of job growth in Maryland, with 4,700 jobs gained in October, 9,500 in September and 2,600 in August, according to federal data.
Maryland’s sudden dip is most likely tied to uncertainty regarding the fiscal cliff and reductions in federal spending, said Anirban Basu, chairman and CEO of the Sage Policy Group in Baltimore. Many agencies that Maryland depends on have become “defensive” regarding their spending outlays in light of the fiscal cliff, he said.
“We are the nation’s most federally dependent state,” he said. “Maryland is among the most impacted not only by the fiscal cliff but also the mere threat of the fiscal cliff.”
All but two sectors, construction and education and health services, reported job losses in the state. Construction gained 500 jobs, and education and health increased by 3,500.
“Until there’s a resolution to these federal issues, Maryland’s economy may continue to decelerate,” Basu said, adding that the data line up with his expectations, given Maryland’s relationship to federal spending and susceptibility to slowdowns in federal government outlays.
Adding to the state’s bad news, the U.S. Department of Labor downgraded Maryland’s preliminary 14,000-job gain in October to 4,700.
“While recent months started to look more promising, these numbers tell a different story,” Larry Hogan, chairman of the economic watchdog group Change Maryland, said in a statement. “The private sector is shedding jobs, and Maryland needs sustained growth in hiring levels to help us weather the fiscal cliff and impending federal government cuts.”
He said he is concerned that Maryland already has lost too many companies to build lasting momentum in job growth.
Gov. Martin O’Malley, in a statement Friday, said, “While November’s preliminary jobs report is disappointing, on the year there are several positive indicators that point in one direction forward.”
He pointed out that Maryland businesses have created 22,200 jobs in the past 12 months and that November’s unemployment rate was down to 6.6 percent, the lowest it has been since March. O’Malley said the lower unemployment rate means more than 25,400 more Marylanders are working today than at this time last year.
“With that said, better is not good enough; the most important job we create is the next job,” O'Malley said.
Retail was among the hardest hit of the state sectors in November, shedding 3,100 jobs.
But Basu predicts that number might be up in December, based on early evidence that suggests consumers are spending this month for the holidays.
“December will be interesting. Undoubtedly, certain segments will not expand since December will be nearly completely associated with uncertainty around the fiscal cliff, especially in professional and business services,” he said. “But there may be some job growth in the retail category.”
Basu said the gains in construction, as seen in November, tend to center around project starts, which can skew data, and that construction has not been a “fabulous” performer in recent months. But he also noted that residential construction has seen an uptick and that the housing market seems to have turned, particularly with the momentum from multifamily building construction.
Education and health services also have more long-term stability, because those sectors are driven by demographics, Basu said. Millennials born around the 1990s and 2000s drive the education staffing demands, while the baby boomers and older groups drive the health care segment, he said.
During a phone conference on the jobs numbers, Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation Secretary Leonard Howie stressed that 16,000 more people have joined the Maryland work force, compared with this time last year.
“Aside from the disappointing loss, Maryland has made tremendous growth this year,” he said.