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Delaware unemployment rate falls under 6% in May

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DOVER – Delaware’s unemployment rate fell by 50 basis points to settle just under 6% for the first time this year, although that was largely due to a drop in the state’s labor force, according to state officials.

The state lost 1,400 jobs last month, ending a string of four months of gains, while 2,500 people left the labor force, 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 childcare, they are no longer counted as being unemployed in the state. The rise in the labor force is a sign that as the pandemic’s effects are easing, more people may be preparing to re-enter the workforce as opportunity allows.

Delaware’s May unemployment rate of 5.9% continues a streak to start 2021 where the state’s rate was above the national average, which sat at 5.8% last month. New weekly unemployment claims in the First State rose to more than 4,900 in the week ending June 12, continuing a rise over the past two months. About 27,000 people continue to receive assistance, as that total also rises a bit over the past month.

New unemployment benefit filings may slow in the June report next month, as the state has now begun requiring recipients to begin looking for work again.

The Delaware Department of Labor’s report, which is taken monthly during the calendar week that contains the 12th day, showed that 28,600 workers were unemployed, a decrease of 2,500 over April – suggesting that those unemployed workers may have left the labor force entirely.

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 249,000 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-15-month-long pandemic, state and federal unemployment assistance has paid more than $1.32 billion to Delaware residents.

The state’s three counties saw differing rates of unemployment in May, with New Castle, Kent and Sussex counties reporting rates of 5.1%, 6.2% and 4.4%, respectively – although those statistics aren’t seasonally adjusted, which impacts tourism-based growth in coastal destinations. Wilmington and Dover, the state’s two most populous cities, have seen an even greater impact in job losses, where 8.9% and 9.5% of workers were unemployed, respectively.

The largest monthly job gain came from the hospitality sector, which added 1,100 jobs ahead of the Memorial Day start of the tourism season. Retail also added 400 jobs, while assorted industries added 100 in May.

Professional and business services saw the biggest losses at 900 jobs, followed by construction at 700 jobs last month. Also seeing losses were the education and health sectors, at 500 jobs; wholesale trade, at 300 jobs; government, at 300 jobs; financial activities, at 200 jobs; and manufacturing, at 100 jobs.

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