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Delaware unemployment rate creeps up in December

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DOVER – After six months of decreases, Delaware saw its unemployment rate rise slightly in December, moving to 5.3% from 5.1% in November, according to state officials.

Also reversing the one-month change, however, was the fact that the state added 900 aggregate jobs in December after reporting a loss of 1,200 aggregate jobs in November, the first monthly loss since April’s cataclysmic drop of more than 70,000 jobs at the outset of the pandemic.

The seemingly conflicting report of job gains with higher unemployment in the December monthly unemployment report released Friday by the Delaware Department of Labor comes primarily due to the state’s dwindling labor pool, which shed 2,800 workers in December. It’s the fifth consecutive month of a decreasing labor force after gaining for three consecutive months and setting a record high in July. The labor force captures not only workers and those receiving unemployment benefits, but also those in search of work who aren’t receiving assistance.

When workers stop seeking work, for a variety of reasons ranging from retirement to childcare, they are no longer counted as being unemployed in the state.

Tom Dougherty, chief labor market economist for the state labor department, said that he expected to see the labor force grow again as the pandemic’s effects subside, especially considering Delaware touched an all-time high workforce just five months ago.

“As the economy gets going again, I think people will get back to normal and start entering the labor force again,” he told Delaware Business Times in December.

Delaware’s December rate of 5.3% marks the third time in the pandemic that the state’s rate was below the national average, which sat at 6.7% last month. New weekly unemployment claims in the First State fell to 3,000 in the week ending Jan. 16, but just under 26,000 people continue to receive assistance.

The Delaware Department of Labor’s report, which was taken monthly during the calendar week that contains the 12th day, showed that 25,200 workers were unemployed. Dougherty explained that the monthly unemployment figure is created from looking at continuous unemployment insurance claims as well as a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey of residents on their employment status.

The official monthly unemployment statistic tracks not only those receiving benefits, but also those who are ineligible, such as terminated employees, those who have resigned and the self-employed, who only became eligible for assistance under a special federal program established under the CARES Act.

More than 176,000 workers have filed for unemployment assistance in the wake of the pandemic, and a variety of state and federal programs have tried to help offset some of their losses.

The state’s three counties saw similar rates of unemployment with New Castle, Kent and Sussex counties reporting rates of 4.9%, 5.2% and 4.5%, respectively – although those statistics aren’t seasonally adjusted. Wilmington and Dover, the state’s two most populous cities, have seen an even greater impact in job losses, where 8.4% and 7.4% of workers were unemployed, respectively.

The largest monthly job gain came from the retail and whole trade subsectors, which added 1,300 jobs last month.

After losing 1,500 jobs in November, the professional and business services sector added 1,000 back in December. Meanwhile, the transportation and utilities subsector also added 700 jobs and manufacturing added 100 jobs.

The leisure and hospitality sector, which includes restaurants, hotels and entertainment venues that were battered by the months-long closures, surprisingly added 300 jobs in November, but lost 1,000 in December following additional restrictions on indoor dining that ran over all of the major holidays.

Similarly, while the construction industry gained 800 jobs in November, it lost 700 in December. Financial services and government also shed 100 jobs each in December, with unclassified industries losing another 300.

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