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Job growth slows in DC area — but there’s good news, too

Job growth in the D.C. area grew more slowly in 2018 than in recent years — in some areas significantly so — but one of the experts who crunched the numbers said there’s a bright side.

Overall, the D.C. area netted a little more than 35,000 new jobs in 2018, almost 17,000 fewer than first thought. The slowdown was really pronounced over the second half of 2018, according to the data from the Stephen Fuller Institute on the Washington Region’s Economic Future.

“It looks like job growth in 2018 was significantly weaker than the preliminary data suggested,” said Jeannette Chapman, the author of the report and deputy director of the Fuller Institute.

“Northern Virginia has been somewhat stronger and more consistent over the period. D.C. has pulled back slightly, primarily because of the federal government. … And suburban Maryland has been relatively weak — especially going back to 2014, they’ve been growing much slower than either D.C. or Northern Virginia for several years now,” Chapman said.

With the federal government no longer hiring the way it used to, area leaders have been trying to make the region more attractive for nonfederal business — the luring of Amazon, for instance — and, to a certain extent, it’s been working.

“The diversification process is slow,” said Chapman, “and there are signs that we are turning the corner. … The private sector has been the main driver of gains going forward. It just takes time to gain some ground on that front.”

“The mix of jobs is actually a little bit stronger,” added Chapman. “Some of the higher wage sectors, like professional and business services, had above average growth.”

Some of those jobs are in the areas of federal contracting, but not all.

Unfortunately, Chapman said, “the other sectors that had relatively strong growth were in lower value-add areas, like leisure and hospitality, retail and trade, and state and local government, and those are more responsive to resident-based changes. They grow with population growth, not necessarily because of overall economic growth.”

In all, the revised numbers show D.C. gained 7,700 jobs and Northern Virginia 26,800, but just 3,200 were added in suburban Maryland.

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