State Economy Slumping


ANNAPOLIS (Sept. 24, 2008)—Maryland's economy has softened in several categories, as foreclosures, welfare receipts, and unemployment claims have all increased in the past year, according to a pending state report.

The Workforce Indicators Report, to be released in the next few weeks, will show that Maryland has seen dips throughout the economy, said Eric Seleznow, executive director of the Governor's Workforce Investment Board, the agency releasing the report. Some areas are better than others - the unemployment rate of 4.4 percent, for instance, is lower than the national average - but Maryland faces an array of problems, including a spike in outward migration and a slowed job-growth rate.

The biggest issue, Seleznow said, is the state's underemployed immigrant labor pool. Many such immigrants take low-skilled jobs because of language barriers or problems in transferring their professional accreditation from abroad, he said.

According to the investment board, 43 percent of Maryland's immigrants have a bachelor's degree, compared to 34 percent of the state's American-born residents.

"It's an untapped workforce," Seleznow said.

The report, based on a compilation of state and federal data, comes on the heels of another report highlighting the state's weakened economy. The State of Working Maryland, released last week by a pair of policy research groups, said mortgage foreclosures more than doubled this past year, and the income gap between high- and low-wage earners "remains persistently high, mirroring national trends."

Timothy Bibo, an analyst with the investment board, said unemployment insurance claims between January and June jumped 16 percent compared to the same period last year, and 23 percent from 2006.

The slumping economy has already dented the state's operating budget. Two weeks ago, officials hacked $432 million off the state's expected revenue stream, mainly because of sliding sales and income tax receipts, leading Gov. Martin O'Malley to order budget cuts throughout the government.

Still, Maryland is better off than most states, Seleznow said. The state has a robust public sector, and the Department of Defense's Base Realignment and Closure plan, or BRAC, will flood Maryland with up to 60,000 jobs by 2011. The state's economy is also expected to grow 4 percent this fiscal year.

But filling BRAC and other jobs may prove difficult. More than 20 percent of working Marylanders are slated to retire in coming years, including roughly half of the aerospace industry. In addition, many residents "lack the basic education and skills necessary to succeed in the workforce," according to a report issued in March by the investment board.

"While Maryland currently enjoys a healthy, diverse business climate, many industries are facing shortages of skilled workers," the report said.

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

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