Big drop in October unemployment

DOVER — Delaware’s unemployment rate saw a steep drop of 2.7% last month and now sits at 5.6%.

It’s been an extraordinary year, a fact reflected in the jobless rate. Delaware started the year at 4% unemployment before climbing from 3.9% in February to 5.1% in March. That was the state’s largest month-to-month increase since September 1990, but things were just getting started.

Unemployment skyrocketed to 14.9% in April, peaking at 15.9% a month later.

It has been falling steadily since, raising hopes it could be under 5% by the end of the year. However, with COVID-19 cases on the rise and stricter limitations going into effect Monday, that prospect now looks uncertain.

Nationally, the case has been similar, with unemployment leaping from 4.4% in March to 14.7% in April. The rate has dropped each month since, decreasing from 7.9% in September to 6.9% in October. That’s still far above the 3.5% reported in February, before the impact of COVID-19 hit the United States.

October marks the first time Delaware’s unemployment level has been better than the nation’s as a whole since March 2019.

Delaware’s first coronavirus case was announced March 11, and businesses were under serious restrictions by the end of the month, with residents urged to remain at home.

During the early months of the pandemic, national unemployment reached levels unseen since the Great Depression.

Prior to this year, Delaware’s highest unemployment rate on record was 9.8% in 1976, the first year relevant job data is available. Similarly, before the pandemic, Delaware had never seen its jobless rate improve by more than .3% in a single month.

During the Great Recession, its worst point was 8.8%, coming in January 2010.

Local average weekly private-sector earnings were $945.43 in October, up about $17 from the prior month and $48 from one year ago.

The state has still lost 36,000 nonfarm jobs over the past 12 months, with a plurality of those coming in leisure and hospitality. About 20,000 jobs were lost in 2009 during the peak of the Great Recession.

The October unemployment rates for New Castle, Kent and Sussex counties were 5.7%, 5.9% and 4.6%, respectively. However, unlike the state data, the county figures are not seasonally adjusted.