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Washington County jobless rate falls again

June 27, 2005|by DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

daniels@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Washington County's jobless rate fell for the fourth straight month to 4 percent in May, bolstered by gains in seasonal fields such as retail and construction, according to data released Thursday by the Maryland Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation.

Down from 4.3 percent in April and from 4.2 percent at this time last year, the county's unemployment rate came in below the state and national averages, though the labor department reported that 18 of the state's jurisdictions either reported level or lower unemployment rates from April to May. Maryland's unemployment rate for May held steady at 4.1 percent and the national average was reported at 5.1 percent.

Mary Jo Yeisley, administrator with the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation's Office of Labor Market Analysis, said seasonal employers such as those in the retail, restaurant, hotel and construction industries typically hire at this time of year with the onset of warmer weather and in advance of the busy summer season.

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Such was the case at Jeter Paving Co., where Kevin Jeter said the Hagerstown-based company recently added a crew of about six or seven workers to take on an increased workload.

"We're headed in that direction ... our number of employees and jobs continue to rise," he said. "Being a seasonal business, the fellows that do have to go on unemployment come back to work in April."

Kent Grove, general manager of the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center Antietam Creek, said across the county occupancy rates have continued to climb steadily following a depression following Sept. 11, 2001. Grove said the Clarion hired about 25 new workers within the past month, with several more available positions at the hotel, though he attributed the increased activity to the growth in tourism to Washington County rather than to seasonal employment.

"It's going to continue to go up. I can't see it reaching a maximum number because occupancy rates continue to increase," he said. "We are definitely hiring. We're looking for more people right now."

Washington County's unemployment rate steadily decreased from February, when the colder weather and layoffs following the holiday shopping season contributed to an unemployment rate of 5.2 percent. Much of last month's gains came from an increased labor force rather than a reduction in the number of unemployed workers in Washington County, according to labor department data.

The number of unemployed workers in the county dropped from 2,921 to 2,757 last month, a decrease of 164 workers or just under 6 percent. From March to April, the county's civilian labor force grew by just 41 workers, though the number of unemployed workers fell by 440 and the two factors combined for an increase of 481 employed workers.

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