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Jobless rate rises to 5.3 percent

April 02, 1999|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Several hundred job seekers joined the labor pool in February in the midst of seasonal employment declines, pushing Washington County's jobless rate more than half a percentage point above the previous month's rate, according to a local labor official.

The county rate rose from 4.7 percent in January to 5.3 percent in February, according to Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation figures released Friday.

The rate was still good news in that it was lower than the February 1998 rate - 6 percent, said Bruce Massey, unemployment insurance supervisor for the labor department's Hagerstown office.

It's unusual for the February rate to be higher than the January rate, Massey said.

Nationally, the rate dropped one-tenth of a percentage point, from 4.8 percent in January to 4.7 percent in February, according to labor department figures.

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With no major company "downsizings" or plant layoffs in the county, that anachronism can probably be blamed on the weather, he said.

Mild weather in December and January led to unseasonably lower rates because weather-sensitive industries, like construction, were able to keep workers busier for longer than usual, Massey said.

By February, many construction companies probably just ran out of work, he said.

Actual employment in the county went down only slightly, from 66,581 in January to 66,535 in February, according to government figures.

At the same time, the county's civilian labor force rose from 69,874 workers in January to 70,230 workers.

Frederick County, Md., and the state as a whole saw smaller increases than Washington County did.

Frederick County's rate rose from 3 percent in January to 3.4 percent in February, while Maryland's rate went up from 4 percent to 4.4 percent. Still, rates for both remained a full percentage point below their rates in February 1998.

Based on the significantly lower number of unemployment claims in the past couple of weeks - since right after the last major snowstorm - Massey said he predicts Washington County's jobless rate for March will be lower.

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