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County sees lowest jobless rate in decade

July 02, 1999|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

A combination of seasonal jobs and continued hiring in all types of industries quickly absorbed new job seekers in May resulting in Washington County's lowest jobless rate in at least a decade, a local labor department official said Friday.

"It's come close but not quite," said Shanon Wolf, manager of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation's Hagerstown office.

While many Maryland counties had higher jobless rates due to summer job-hunting, Washington County's rate dropped three-tenths of a percentage point to 3 percent, beating its record 3.1 percent rate in December 1988, according to preliminary labor department figures released Friday.

The county's May rate was a full percentage point below where it was in May 1998, according to labor department figures.

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Employment growth outpaced the influx of summer workers in Washington County.

Though the workforce grew by 425 workers in May, 557 more county residents were employed than in April.

"Those who began looking for work very quickly found it," Wolf said.

While a lot of the job growth came in "summer-type jobs," like parks and recreation, there also was continued hiring in retail, food services, distribution, manufacturing, construction, landscaping and other sectors, she said.

"I really do think the want ads represent an across-the-board search for employees," Wolf said.

As the labor market has tightened, Wolf said her office has had more requests from companies to help in recruiting.

Companies that can't offer benefits and those with wages at the low end of the spectrum are having the most difficulty finding workers, she said.

"Job seekers can shop around for a better deal," Wolf said.

As the competition has stiffened, companies have gotten more creative in their recruiting efforts, she said.

Because the labor department doesn't track wages, Wolf said she couldn't say if local companies are raising wages to better compete.

Having a difficult time finding workers, Merry Maids in Hagerstown recently raised its starting wage from $6.50 an hour to $8 an hour and has improved benefits, said Susan Ciroula.

The company had to run six or seven ads to fill all of its openings and is still taking applications to keep up with a booming business, Ciroula said.

The job isn't for everyone, she said.

"It's hard work. There's no two ways about it," Ciroula said.

While the labor market is tighter, the low jobless rate is good news and not cause for worry, said Thomas B. Riford, marketing director for the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission.

"It means that there are jobs to be had here in Washington County," Riford said.

The numbers show that new companies are moving in and existing companies are expanding, he said.

"The data collection is catching up with the announcements," Riford said.

Statewide, the jobless rate crept up from 3.5 percent in April to 3.6 percent in May, according to the labor department figures.

While a little more than 500 more residents had jobs, Frederick County's jobless rate went up slightly, from 1.9 percent in April to 2 percent in May, according to the figures.

Still, the Frederick County rate was nearly a full percentage point below its May 1998 level.

Frederick County's labor pool grew from 99,078 workers in April to 99,736 workers in May. The number of county residents working increased from 97,183 in May to 97,692 in May.

Nationally, the jobless rate dropped slightly, going from 4.1 percent in April to 4 percent in May.

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