Delaware unemployment rises slightly as self-employed added
WILMINGTON – More than 5,000 more Delaware workers filed unemployment claims last week, breaking the six-week streak of continuous declines by a few hundred claims, as self-employed and independent contractors are beginning to be added to the rolls under a new federal program.
In total, 5,584 new claims were filed in the week ending May 16, pushing the total claims filed during the coronavirus pandemic to 95,824, the Delaware Department of Labor reported Thursday.
The unprecedented totals in unemployment claims has surpassed the total of the last three years’ claims combined but may not be representative of how many workers are unemployed permanently, as employers statewide utilize temporary furloughs to cut expenses.
The data shows that roughly 20% of the state’s workforce has filed an unemployment claim in the crisis, although some of those claims were denied, some of the workers have returned to their jobs after furloughs and others have likely went back to work full-time this month as the state lifted some restrictions on businesses.
As of last week, 60,881 workers are receiving unemployment insurance payments from the state, an increase of more than 2,000 from the prior week. The insured unemployed data represents a state unemployment rate of almost 13%.
State officials are scheduled to release the highly watched official April labor report on Friday, May 22. It is expected to show the historic impact of the pandemic and its associated government lockdowns on the state’s workforce.
Last week, state labor officials reported that more than 14,000 claims from newly eligible self-employed workers and independent contractors, made possible by the federal CARES Act, had been submitted through a new state processing system that went live May 11.
Despite federal unemployment aid being extended to them in March, such workers, who don’t pay into the state’s unemployment trust fund to be insured against job losses, hadn’t been able to tap into relief funds because of a lack of a state system to verify their incomes. Those workers are now eligible for payments ranging from $733 to $1,000 per week, depending on proof of income documentation.
It is unclear how many of those so-called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claims were approved, whether they were being counted among the state’s insured assistance recipients and how many were new filings versus those filed in previous weeks and denied due to their then-ineligibility. Delaware Business Times is seeking clarity from state labor officials.
The historically high wave of assistance seekers has overwhelmed the manpower of the department and required federal stimulus funds to bolster the depleted state Unemployment Trust Fund, which has paid out $234 million in claims from March 15 to May 16. A historic weekly high for payments has been about $3 million, but last week saw payment of $46.7 million.
The state’s trust fund has seen an infusion of more than $142 million from the federal government, while the state has paid out about $92 million through the crisis.
By Jacob Owens