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Delaware unemployment falls but national gap expands

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DOVER – Delaware’s unemployment rate fell 10 basis points in December while gaining 1,300 jobs, but the gap between the state’s rate and the national average widened to more than a percentage point, according to state officials.

December’s job growth continues a three-month increase, while 700 more people joined the state’s labor force – setting a new record high, according to the monthly report released Friday morning.

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 child care, they are no longer counted as being unemployed in the state.

Delaware’s December unemployment rate of 5% was significantly higher than the national average, which fell 30 basis points to 3.9% last month. The gap widened another 20 basis points between months, surpassing a full percentage point for the first time in a 12-month period. In June, Delaware’s rate was lower than the national average, but the state has since steadily fallen behind in its recovery. Its ranking among states was not available Friday, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is still collecting data from other states.

New weekly unemployment claims in the First State totaled 695 in the week ending Jan. 15, up more than 50% from a month prior. More than 5,300 people continue to receive assistance though, as continuous claimants have slowly risen over the fall and winter, possibly due to job losses in the wake of the omicron variant surge.

The Delaware Department of Labor’s report, which is taken monthly during the calendar week that contains the 12th day, showed that 24,600 workers were unemployed, a decrease of 600 over November.

The official monthly unemployment figure is created by looking at continuous unemployment insurance claims as well as a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey of residents on their employment status. It 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.

Nearly 272,000 state workers have filed for unemployment assistance in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a variety of state and federal programs have tried to help offset some of their losses. Over the now-22-month-long pandemic, state and federal unemployment assistance has paid more than $1.475 billion to Delaware residents.

The state’s three counties saw differing rates of unemployment in October, with New Castle, Kent and Sussex counties reporting rates of 4.1%, 4.8% and 4.2%, 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 5.7% and 6% of workers were unemployed, respectively.

The largest monthly job gains came in the leisure and hospitality sector, which added 600 jobs last month after adding 1,500 in November. The retail and wholesale trade subsectors added 500 jobs, while the government added 300, unsorted industries added 200, and education and health added 100, as did construction and the transportation and utilities subsector.

Leading the job losses was the financial activities, which shed 500 jobs in December, while professional and business services lost 100.

As of December, the state had year-over-year job growth of 11,900 jobs, with every sector seeing growth except professional and business services, which is still down 1,300 jobs, and manufacturing, which is down 500.

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