We learned some good economic news last week. The April 2009 unemployment rate in St. Mary’s County fell to 5.1%, the 3rd lowest rate in the state just behind Howard and Montgomery Counties (see www.dllr.state.md.us/lmi/laus/). Across the state Maryland counties improved their employment situations. State unemployment fell to 6.6% while national unemployment climbed to 8.9%. (May’s national unemployment numbers are due out Friday.) The gaps between our local unemployment rate and the state and certainly the national rates have never been wider in recent times. Our local economy remains strong with steady employment. The fact that most of the County’s working population also lives here helps stabilize things even more. In a time of rising fuel prices and continued uncertainty, the unique combination of living where you work in a solid regional employment center brings lots of advantages.

At the same time our unemployment rate is still well above a year ago (2.9% in April 2008) and the ranks of the County’s unemployed are up more than one thousand compared with this time last year. There are many challenges we continue to face, especially in the small business sector where most jobs are.

Yet there is a noticeable sense of improvement in the confidence levels of consumers, employers, developers, lenders, and others. Granted, everyone is more cautious than a year ago. This mindset will help guide better decisions in the coming months and couple of years. Downturns make you stronger and smarter.

Everything is relative. The April ’09 unemployment numbers are only one measure. There are many more economic indicators to consider. But an improving employment picture is definitely welcomed news today, and adds more to our overall economic confidence index.