Morning Brief: Local Unemployment Climbs

The jobless rate locally soared in Maryland, the District and Virginia in December, showing that the Washington area is not immune to the downdraft of the recession.

Bureau of Labor Statistics data released Tuesday offered more evidence of an economy growing increasingly fragile, even in these local jurisdictions, which traditionally have been sheltered from dramatic job losses because of the presence of the federal government. Staff writer V. Dion Haynes has the full story here.

In Virginia, 24,500 lost their jobs in December when the unemployment rate jumped to 5.4 percent from 4.8 percent. The unemployment rate in the District leaped nearly a point in December, to 8.8 percent from 8.0 percent the previous month. Maryland's unemployment rate rose to 5.8 percent from 5.3 percent. The ranks of the unemployed grew by 9,000 in Maryland and 2,800 in the District.

Like the rest of the country, the District and the two states suffered heavy losses in manufacturing, hospitality and especially retail. Richmond-based Circuit City, the nation's No. 2 electronics retailer, laid off 800 after its November bankruptcy filing and intends to cut an additional 34,000 jobs across the country when it shuts down all of its 567 stores in March. Hundreds more cuts are expected, with announcements yesterday of job cuts at Minneapolis-based Target and a loss of 650 jobs at Volvo's truck assembly plant in Dublin, Va.

The District's unemployment rate is well above the national rate of 7.2 percent. City officials said they expect it to climb to 10 percent by next year.

The District "really does mirror national trends in the sectors where nationally we're seeing job losses," said Joseph P. Walsh, acting director of the city's Department of Employment Services, adding that 1,300 jobs were lost in professional and business services, 200 in construction, 100 in financial services and 100 in hospitality. "The District isn't immune to the forces hitting the [national] economy."

It was the first time in 33 years of record-keeping that unemployment rose in all 50 states and the District. Consumer confidence in the economy tumbled once more in January after reaching historically low levels last month.

In District news, a local television transition is causing some confusion for cable customers. Cable company RCN last week shut off analog channels in the Chevy Chase area, and it will do the same in parts of Northwest D.C. this week as it shifts to digital technology.

The effort is part of an "analog crush," in which RCN is getting rid of analog signals to increase its channel offerings.

That means that customers used to plugging coaxial cable cords directly into a TV now will need a digital converter box for every TV set to get channels.

But for some, RCN's move from analog to digital service couldn't have come at a worse time. The government has mandated a separate conversion to digital over-the-air broadcasts that requires consumers with older analog TV sets to install a converter box, and most likely a new antenna, to receive free broadcasts. The switch is supposed to take place Feb. 17, but the Senate voted Monday to delay the transition until June 12. The House is expected to vote on the legislation as soon as this morning.

By Alejandro Lazo  |  January 28, 2009; 10:21 AM ET  | Category:  Economy , Economy Watch , Morning Brief
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