The Washington area's workforce contracted slightly last month, when more than 18,500 people stopped looking for employment in Maryland, Virginia and the District, and the region lost 22,200 jobs from the previous month, according to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The District lost 11,200 jobs, for a 1.5 percent decline, between July and August, data show.

During the period, Virginia lost 12,400 jobs -- more than any other state -- and more than 12,000 unemployed Virginians stopped looking for work. Both losses were negligible, however, compared with the commonwealth's large employed workforce, which consists of more than 3.7 million workers.

Unemployment rates
State August 2011 June 2012 July 2012 August 2012
Maryland 7.2 6.9 7.0 7.1
D.C. 10.5 9.1 8.9 8.8
Virginia 6.4 5.7 5.9 5.9

Maryland, by comparison, gained 1,400 jobs, bringing its total employed workforce to 2.6 million in August, while roughly 6,600 residents stopped looking for work compared with the previous month.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley lauded the job gains and chose not to address the state's unemployment rate, which ticked up one-tenth of a point to 7.1 percent between July and August.

"Last month, the people of Maryland created 1,400 new jobs -- the best August for job creation since 2005," he said. "Together, we've recovered nearly 70 percent of the jobs we've lost during the Bush recession at a rate nearly 50 percent faster than the nation as a whole."

Critics, meanwhile, focused on the 6,800 jobs that Maryland has lost since January.

"Martin O'Malley has no credibility whatsoever talking about jobs," said Larry Hogan, chairman of Change Maryland, a conservative grassroots organization.

Virginia's 5.9 percent unemployment rate stayed the same last month, and D.C.'s dropped slightly to 8.8 percent. Nationally, 26 states saw their unemployment rates rise, while rates dropped in 12 states and stayed the same in 12 states.

D.C.'s jobless rate is down 1.7 points from a year earlier, but Mayor Vincent Gray said the District still has a long way to go.

"While it's gratifying to see a continued drop, our employment situation is complex and we must not give in to complacency," he said. "We must continue working diligently to grow and diversify our economy. To back off now would be foolhardy, especially given the very real possibly of devastating federal budget cuts on the horizon."