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Delaware reports November job losses amid muted recovery

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DOVER – Delaware saw a much more muted unemployment rate drop of just half a percentage point to 5.1% in November, versus the 2.7 percentage-point drop in October, according to state officials.

While the November monthly unemployment report released Friday by the Delaware Department of Labor showed the sixth consecutive month of falling rates, it was the first since April in which the state reportedly lost jobs in aggregate.

The state lost 1,200 jobs in November, ending a streak of job growth of about 41,000 jobs added back between May and October. In April, Delaware lost a historic record of nearly 75,000 amid the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The seemingly conflicting report of jobs losses with less unemployment comes primarily due to Delaware’s dwindling labor pool, which shed 4,700 workers in November. It’s the fourth 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.

As 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 on Friday.

Delaware’s November rate of 5.1% marks the second 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 rose to about 4,400 in the week ending Dec. 12, but just under 28,000 people continue to receive assistance.

Delaware ranked tied for 33rd in unemployment rate overall last month, well ahead of its neighbors. Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey ranked 18th, 16th and 1st overall respectively with rates between 6.6% and 10.2%.

The Delaware Department of Labor’s report, which is taken monthly during the calendar week that contains the 12th day, showed that 24,400 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 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 163,000 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 4.8%, 5% and 4.1%, 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 8.7% and 7.3% of workers were unemployed, respectively.

The largest monthly job losses came from the professional and business services sector, which shed 1,500 jobs last month after adding 200 in October. Dougherty told DBT that losses in employment services, which primarily includes all manner of office workers, and building services, which include facility support and sanitation staff, caused that decrease.

The education and health care sector was the second most impacted with 600 job losses. The federal government cut 300 jobs here while state government added 100. Financial services lost 200 jobs while unclassified industries shed another 300.

The biggest monthly gain was 800 jobs in the construction sector, spurred in part by a strong housing market spurred by low mortgage interest rates. Coming in second was the transportation and utilities subsector which added 500 jobs

The leisure and hospitality sector, which includes restaurants, hotels and entertainment venues that were battered by the months-long closures, actually added 300 jobs despite the imposing of additional restrictions on indoor dining before the Thanksgiving holiday break. That figure may change in the December report, as the November “snapshot” of labor data preceded the beginning of the new restrictions.

By Jacob Owens

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