Jobs report dreadful to Shore

As has often been the case, Martin O’Malley’s personal irritant – that burr under his saddle known as Change Maryland – came out with hard jobs data which showed he’s the job-losing governor.

Using federal employment figures, the number crunchers at Change Maryland found out that 22 of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions have seen total employment fall from 2007 through 2011. The only two jurisdictions showing gains were St. Mary’s and Howard counties, with St. Mary’s state-leading growth pegged at 6.2 percent. (In real jobs, it’s just under 2,500. Howard County had a smaller 2.8% gain but it translated into just over 4,000 jobs.)

To be fair, though, the numbers through the first half of 2012 would prove sufficient to put eight counties in the black from their 2007 average. Even that comes with a caveat, though, for in June employment tends to be around the highest in the calendar year; in particular June numbers would pull Worcester County to a point where its employment growth would be 20 percent. That’s why Change Maryland opted to use a common yearlong average in compiling its bleak set of figures.

Speaking in the press release accompanying the numbers:

“Coming out of the recession, we’re just not posting strong gains consistently, across the state,” said Change Maryland Communications and Policy Director Jim Pettit. “And we’re finding that our largest jurisdictions are pulling employment levels down, and we need to see an opposite trend in order to restore economic performance statewide.”

On the very last page of their release, Change Maryland ranks each county in percentage growth (or decline) and that’s where Martin O’Malley’s War on Rural Maryland (and, in particular, the Eastern Shore) rears its ugly head. The bottom nine performers, the laggards in an already slothlike recovery, just so happen to be the nine counties comprising the Eastern Shore. (In order from bad to worst, they are Caroline, Worcester, Somerset, Dorchester, Queen Anne’s, Wicomico, Talbot, Cecil, and Kent.) 12,853 jobs have been lost in the period between 2007 and 2011 within that nine-county area, which had a total employment of 159,501 as of the end of 2011. Put another way, for every 100 jobs which existed here on the Eastern Shore in 2007, only 92 remained four years later.

So why is the Eastern Shore holding back the state? I have a number of theories, some of which can be traced to O’Malley’s liberal policies and others being systemic problems without such a quick fix.

Obviously the O’Malley bias against rural development is best shown by the passage of SB236 last year, a bill which allowed the state to butt into local planning decisions and encouraged growth only in limited areas. Want to build a job-creating facility in an area with room to expand? Not so fast. The ever-increasing taxes and fees adopted or expanded by O’Malley haven’t helped much either.

But we can’t completely blame O’Malley for everything, regardless of the temptation to do so. Bad decisions have been made by the previous federal, state and local authorities as well, most particularly in the area of infrastructure and transportation. Most glaring among those to me was not building a southern crossing over Chesapeake Bay at its narrow portion just west of Cambridge and not pushing to have a better north-south highway built through Delaware, to allow quicker access to the Northeast. Both of those would be difficult, if not impossible, to complete now in the present anti-growth climate.

There will be those who say the problem with the Eastern Shore is that it’s grown too much and losing its rural character. But I beg to differ, as that rural character is falling victim more to the ubiquitous, homogenized media culture than to any growth. We are a long, long way from becoming Howard County or the bedroom suburbs south of Washington, D.C. because we don’t have a large metropolis to serve as a driving force for suburbanization. (The largest Eastern Shore city is Salisbury, with a population just over 30,000. Several I-95 corridor suburban bedroom communities are larger by themselves, not to mention the root urban area.) Even if we grew at an astounding rate of 10 percent a year, Wicomico County would take decades to get to the level of a Montgomery County.

But we’re not going to get anywhere except to becoming the next deserted dust bowl if policies in Maryland (and nationally) don’t change. Change Maryland just showed us the evidence that what we’re doing now is a disaster.

As an aside, it’s worth pointing out that Delegate Mike McDermott introduced a bill to repeal last year’s SB236. HB106 is seventeen pages long, but practically all of the text is there in order to show existing law which would be scrubbed. A total of 24 GOP co-sponsors are behind the bill, which is awaiting a hearing in Delegate Maggie McIntosh’s Environmental Matters Committee.

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