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Baltimore County Told "Fabulous" Economy Predicted For Later This Year

Associated Press/Jeff Chiu, File

The most recent jobless figures show more than 200,000 Marylanders remain unemployed. But Baltimore County officials are being advised the economy may come roaring back later this year.

County officials are finding they have collected more in taxes than they expected because a lot of people who pay higher taxes have been able to keep their jobs.

Michael Gedraitis, vice president of sales for Radcliffe Jewelers in Pikesville, told his fellow members at a recent meeting of Baltimore County’s Economic Advisory Committee that sales are shockingly good. Their customers have money and are looking to spend it.

“They’re not traveling,” Gedraitis said. “They’re not spending money on the fancy cocktail party attire or anything like that, so they’re putting it into, ‘might as well upgrade my diamond studs or buy that Rolex that I’ve always wanted.’”

Those higher paid, white collar workers who have hung onto their jobs aren’t just helping Getraidis’ business. They’re helping the county’s financial picture because more than 40% of the county’s revenue comes from the income tax. The more you make, the more you pay in taxes. 

Baltimore County Budget Director Ed Blades said they are forecasting they will collect $15 million to $19 million more in income taxes this fiscal year than they were expecting.

“Things are not as bad as we were all really worried about,” Blades said.

That helps the county’s bottom line as it works on its budget for the coming fiscal year which will starts in July.

If you have the kind of job that has allowed you to work from home for the past 10 months, congratulations. You are one of the winners in the COVID economy. But is remote work sustainable?

Economist Anirban Basu, Chairman and CEO of the Sage Policy Group, told the committee there are studies that show people are being as or more productive at home than they were in the office. He said there are a lot of distractions in the office place.

“The water cooler, repeated coffee breaks, impromptu staff meetings, NCAA brackets and so on and so forth,” Basu said.

Matt Copeland, senior vice president with the commercial real estate firm KLNB Retail in Towson, said people are working longer hours at home. Plus Zoom meetings don’t always work well. Copeland, who is in the business of renting office space, said he doesn’t expect much to change for the next 18 months.

“COVID is really driving the decision for everyone to stay home,” he said. “And until this pandemic’s over we’re not going to see a rebound.”

Basu, who does the Morning Economic Report for WYPR, said you can argue we are in a second recession in less than a year.

The first one occurred last spring when the pandemic shut down the economy. There was a rebound in the summer, then a second recession took hold in the fall when the jobless rate went up again and retail sales fell. But Basu predicts the round two recession will end as more people get vaccinated.

“We think that the back half of calendar year 2021 will be simply sensational for the U.S. economy, fabulous,” Basu said.

But for many, the COVID economy continues to be devastating. Basu said 30,500 fewer county residents had jobs in November this year compared to last year.

“That translates into a 6.9% decline in place of residence employment,” Basu said. “That is a crisis.”

The people with low paying jobs in hotels and restaurants have been hardest hit.

Despite the high unemployment rate, there are jobs to be had.

Michael Galiazzo, the president of the Regional Manufacturing Institute, said local industries are looking for people to hire.

“If someone managed a bar, they probably could find a role in manufacturing somewhere, a management job,” Galiazzo said.

You can find job listings at the Maryland Workforce Exchange website.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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