Last month I wrote about taking care of business, especially now. We were reminded again Sunday night of Yogi Berra’s wisdom, “It ain’t over ’till it’s over” and from young Steelers’ coach Mike Tomlin’s execution that football is a 60-minute game. Making the best out of every situation is what it’s all about.

I want to briefly examine unemployment, a topic fresh on everyone’s mind. Here’s a quick summary of the latest reported unemployment rates for December ’08. January ’09 national data will be released this Friday (always on the first Friday of the month). State and local data lag by 3 or 4 weeks. The national rate of 7.2% includes an estimated 11 million unemployed. Those are both record highs of late. In comparison, Maryland’s December rate of 5.6% (5.8% seasonally adjusted) ranks about 15th lowest and represents about 175,000 unemployed statewide. More importantly, the state rate is up more than 2% in the last year, and the highest monthly rate since 1993.

At the local level, St. Mary’s County’s 4.3% rate is up 1.5% from a year ago, and the highest monthly rate in the last 6 years. There is a reported total of 2,215 in the county’s unemployed ranks, an increase of about 800 from a year ago. We learned last week from the local Department of Social Services that the number of clients seeking employment assistance has grown 540% in the past year. The number of applicants exceeded 1,000, up significantly from an average number of less than 200. We also learned that many of these new applicants are experienced and educated career professionals who are seeking assistance for the first time. On the other side, the number of available jobs has practically dried up. So the challenges facing us continue to get tougher.

But everything is relative. Did you know that St. Mary’s County’s December ’08 unemployment rate is the lowest in the region? Calvert was at 4.5%, Charles at 4.7%, Anne Arundel at 4.8%, and Prince Georges at 5.6%. In fact, only one other county in the State was lower than St. Mary’s: Howard County at 3.8%.

That’s not necessarily good news, but it does say something about the stability of local employment here. The point to make is that jobs are the central ingredient to our economy. Without work people lack income to spend, and spending makes our economy go. Whatever side of the equation you are on, whether worker or employer, seek out available assistance, even if you’re not directly affected. Get involved, take an interest, see how you can help. Getting idle workers working is the name of the game right now. Let the spirit of the remarkable Super Bowl performance, from both teams, help us to collectively take care of business in 2009.

Finally, February is Black History Month. The NAACP was founded exactly 100 years ago this year. There are many other notable items to recognize locally and nationally so please stay posted and help celebrate this great occasion.