Maryland’s historically low unemployment rate has knotty origins

By Sophie Foster

Opinion Editor

As of fall 2023, the state of Maryland has the lowest unemployment rate of any state in recorded American history.

According to CNN, the state “registered a record unemployment rate of 1.6% in September — less than half the national unemployment rate of 3.8% that month.” This means that Maryland is experiencing the “lowest seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of any state on record going back to 1976.”

According to The Daily Record, Maryland is one of 21 states that saw unemployment decrease in 2023.

Dialogue surrounding this statistic is crowded with perspectives. On a baseline level, it is an innately positive trend for workers in the state that grants leverage for demanding increased wages and switches to better sources of employment. However, in the undertones of this data is an immense loss of Marylanders seeking employment as a result of the state’s slow recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to CNN.

Because American unemployment rates are calculated on the basis of Americans seeking employment, this statistic excludes those who are unemployed but not actively in search of a job. This rate does not consider Marylanders who reached retirement age during the pandemic or who, following infection with COVID-19, became disabled or otherwise unable to work as they used to.

“Economists point to decreasing participation in the workforce to explain the [unemployment rate] trend,” according to The Baltimore Sun. “The labor force in Maryland dwindled in the wake of the…pandemic, with working people leaving the job force in droves. It still hasn’t recovered and the slow recovery in Maryland lags that of other states.”

To take a closer look at Maryland’s process of progression past the pandemic, the most prominent industries in the state are government jobs, healthcare, education, and professional services, according to CNN. Following the pandemic, many elected to take early retirement pensions from government jobs or seek employment outside of at-risk and front-facing industries such as healthcare and education.

Supporting this notion of COVID-19’s influence on the workforce, Maryland’s labor force participation rate now hovers around 65%, according to CNN. Before it fell abruptly at the onset of the pandemic, it was around 69%. This means that the share of workers actively employed or seeking employment has decreased significantly.

According to The Baltimore Sun, today, almost one in five available nursing positions are vacant, with high nurse turnover rates. Other employers in healthcare, trades, construction, and the hospitality industry are evenly low on workers. Job openings have increased, career and opportunity ladders are being built with vigor, and wages are rising.

Ultimately, the Maryland employment spectrum today is as complicated as ever, even if taking a different form. If the state wants to witness enduring economic prosperity, perhaps it is time for officials to openly acknowledge the deeply detrimental impact of COVID-19.

Establishing funding and programming to develop supports for those still contending with lives upended by the pandemic would be a valuable start, as would the continued increase of minimum wage to align with the contemporary cost of living.

Regardless, it is inarguable that more should be done to uplift the socioeconomically vulnerable in the state. Hopefully the changes we are seeing will eventually point to industries freshly inclining themselves toward workers in an economy otherwise centered around a “profits over people” mindset.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo caption: The Johns Hopkins medical system is one of the major employment sources in Maryland, alongside the University of Maryland’s hospital circuit.

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