WASHINGTON — Retail job losses helped boost Maryland’s unemployment rate to 7.3 percent from 7.1 percent, making it one of only two states to see a statistically significant increase last month.
Maryland’s retail losses totaled about 3,000, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Another 1,400 census jobs ended, a situation that mirrored the national trend. Administrative and support services sectors, which lost 1,300 jobs, and professional, scientific and technical services, which lost 900, also contributed to the state’s unemployment increase. Maryland’s job losses totaled 5,600 in August.
Gov. Martin O’Malley responded to the jobs report Tuesday while announcing the launch of an online job-search tool with 80,000 job listings.
“I share the frustration of many Marylanders whose hope for a quick recovery process is met with slower-than-expected job growth,” he said in a news release. “Today’s jobs report is further indication that while Maryland is moving past this national recession stronger and more quickly than other states, there is still work to do.”
In spite of these losses, Maryland’s unemployment rate remains one of the lowest in the country, and Maryland has added 13,900 jobs since August 2009. Nationally unemployment rose .1 percent in August to 9.6 percent.
Maryland’s retail sector sagged over the past few months. Overall there are fewer retail jobs now than in August 2009. “It’s been a tough summer,” Pat Donoho, president of the Maryland Retailers Association said. “May was good. June was good. July really stunk. August was a fairly good month. As folks look forward, they’re going to try to predict what Christmas is all about.”
“Retail certainly is sensitive to the overall economy and confidence in the economy,” said Bernie Kohn of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
Lou Boulmetis, owner of Baltimore’s Hippodrome Hats, a maker and retailer of men’s hats, said his sales are basically the same as they were this time last year. “We’re a destination, a niche … we’re not going hog wild, but we’re doing about what we did last year.”
Still he’s been working hard to keep expenses down by cutting utility costs and working to reduce credit card transaction fees. Hippodrome Hats has no employees, just Boulmetis and his wife. “We’re flat, not growing,” he said.
And major retailers who could hire employees are not coming to Baltimore because of a lack of space and tightness in the national credit market, said Michael Evitts of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, the organization responsible for Baltimore Retail Week, a discount week in April.
“It’s not for lack of demand that retailers aren’t coming downtown,” Evitts said, citing a survey conducted by the organization showing that 80 percent of Baltimore residents shop outside the city because of a lack of options in Baltimore.
The retailers at Arundel Mills mall, outside Baltimore, have seen a strong year, said mall spokeswoman Wendy Ellis. Because most of the stores are discount outlets, “our retailers are positioned to do well” in a recession, she said.
In Montgomery County, Joanna Caputi spokeswoman for Westfield Montgomery mall said that three new stores opened in the past month and five more are slated to open, creating about 50 new jobs.