By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 11, 2010; A16
Unemployment rates rose in the District, Maryland and Virginia in January, a shift that economists said could be a positive sign for the economy because it suggests that discouraged job-seekers are feeling more optimistic about their prospects and have resumed looking for work.
The District's jobless rate increased to 12 percent in January from 11.9 percent the previous month, according to data released Wednesday by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Maryland's rate climbed to 7.5 percent from 7.4 percent, while in Virginia, the jobless rate rose to 6.9 percent from 6.8 percent. That same month, the U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 9.7 percent from 10 percent in December.
"Maryland, Virginia and the District are where the labor market is advanced in terms of recovery. Many people are beginning their job search, and as they begin, that rate gets higher," said Anirban Basu, chairman and chief executive of Sage Policy Group, a Baltimore economic and policy consulting firm.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics, which revised the District's December rate down by 0.2 percentage points and the rates in Maryland and Virginia down by 0.1 points, counts only people working or actively looking for work as being in the labor force.
Rising unemployment as a positive sign may sound counterintuitive, but economists explain it this way: The increase suggests that long-term unemployed people in the D.C. area who had given up looking for work have restarted their job hunt, perhaps because they see evidence that the region's economy is improving and that employers are beginning to hire again. On the other hand, the declining national rate indicates that discouraged workers elsewhere have remained out of the labor force because they do not see any reason to look for work.