Delaware jobless rate lowest in almost eight years

DOVER — Delaware’s unemployment rate continues to drop, falling to the lowest point in nearly eight years.

Data released Friday by the Office of Occupational and Labor Market Information shows the state’s unemployment rate for March was 4.4 percent, better than the national average of 5 percent.

“It’s continuing on what’s been the main trend, increasing jobs, decreasing unemployment rate, so it’s hard to really find much fault here,” office chief George Sharpley said.

That 4.4 percent figure translates to 21,100 people. It is the lowest mark in Delaware since May 2008.

The median length of unemployment is about 15 weeks, below the peak of nearly 25 weeks in 2010. Prior to the Great Recession, however, the median figure was just nine weeks.

Twenty-nine percent of unemployed Delawareans have been in that position for at least six months, down from 48 percent in 2010 but above the 2007 level of 14 percent.

Delaware’s unemployment rate was 4.6 percent in February.

Locally, New Castle County led the way with an unemployment rate of 4.2 percent. Kent was at 4.7 percent and Sussex posted a rate of 4.9 percent, although the country figures are not seasonally adjusted.

“With the drop in the state unemployment rate to 4.4 percent in March, Delaware appears to be approaching full employment,” Dr. Sharpley wrote in the release. “While economic and demographic changes through time make the full employment rate a moving target, the state averaged 3.8 percent unemployment for the 11 years 1997 to 2007, so there is likely further to go.”

Wage data can be hard to come by and is not included in the monthly reports, but Dr. Sharpley said payroll data from July 2014 to July 2015 showed earnings increased .9 percent in Delaware. That figure fell well below the national increase of 2.6 percent.

Though diagnosing the cause is difficult, “it definitely looks like the wage growth is not keeping up,” Dr. Sharpley said.

The number of part-time workers is decreasing, which Dr. Sharpley said typically indicates more people are finding full-time employment.

From March 2015 to March 2016, leisure and hospitality added 2,800 workers, while the education and health field increased by 2,500 jobs and professional and business services counted an extra 2,400 positions.

While discouraged workers — those who want to work but have been unable to find a job and have simply given up looking — are not counted in the unemployment rate, Dr. Sharpley said more and more people are having success locating a job.

Over the past year, there were about 1,700 people who had dropped out of the workforce, compared to 3,500 in 2010.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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