No End in Sight as Maryland's Job Picture Worsens


WASHINGTON (Dec. 17, 2008) - For the past two years, Frank Tennessee has been able to get by working a few part-time jobs. But lately, even those opportunities have dried up.

Twice a week, he goes to the MontgomeryWorks One-Stop Job Center in Wheaton to look for work.

"Right now, I need a steady job," said Tennessee, a 35-year-old Rockville resident. "They're sending us places, giving us leads and stuff, but nobody will hire us."

Tennessee is one of the growing number of jobless Marylanders. The state's unemployment rate hit 5 percent in October—its highest rate in 12 years—according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And with the country mired in a recession, it could be a while before things get better.

"This is going to probably be the longest recession we've had in the post-war," said Peter Morici, an economist and professor at the University of Maryland. "It's going to be very difficult to re-emerge from because the things that caused it were structural breakdowns in the economy that have not been repaired."

The major issues that caused the recession—foreign oil dependence and a crippled banking industry—remain unresolved, Morici said. Until corrections are made, he said, the nation will continue to suffer.

Maryland has not suffered quite as much as other states. While its unemployment rate has risen nearly 40 percent since April, the October rate of 5 percent was the 15th-lowest in the nation. It also sits well below the national rate of 6.7 percent.

The low rate is largely due to the many government jobs in the state. But with a potential billion-dollar budget shortfall for state government on the way next year, the once-reliable government sector is now facing potential layoffs, furloughs and hiring freezes.

"We've been in discussion with (the Department of Budget and Management) regarding that," said Andy Moser, assistant secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor. "We're basically waiting to see what their final approach is going to be."

While government jobs may not be as plentiful, the state is trying to help the unemployed in other ways.

The job center in Wheaton is one of more than 30 publicly run career centers throughout the state. They provide job-seekers with free resources like printers, copiers and fax machines, and they host workshops and career fairs.

"We have seen a tremendous increase in the number of people utilizing our services," said Barbara Rodriguez, director of the Wheaton One-Stop Career Center.

In past months, the center in Wheaton used to see 70-80 job-seekers each day, Rodriguez said. She estimates that they now see 200-250.

State officials aren't entirely sure when the situation will get better and they are even less sure how bad it will get before then.

"It depends on what economist you listen to, but the projection is that by next summer the situation should start to level off," Moser said. "How high the unemployment rate's going to go? I don't know the answer to that question."

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

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