Almost 62,000 have sought unemployment in Delaware over past four weeks

DOVER — The Delaware Department of Labor said Thursday 13,258 Delaware workers filed unemployment claims from April 5-11, the fourth week in a row with at least 10,000 filings.

Nearly 62,000 workers in the First State have sought unemployment benefits over the past four weeks, a staggering sum that’s nearly double the number of claims the state saw in all of 2019.

Perhaps more than anything, that statistic illustrates just how widespread and devastating the coronavirus’ impact has been. Unfortunately for Delawareans, it seems there’s little left to do but wait, continue following safety protocols and hope the virus fades soon.

After receiving just 473 unemployment claims from March 8-14, the state saw 10,720 submissions from March 15-21. Delaware announced its first case of COVID-19 March 11 and quickly began closing businesses and limiting public gatherings.

There were 18,987 claims from March 22-28 and another 18,863 the following week.

The Department of Labor is expected to release its unemployment figures for March, which offer greater detail than the unemployment claim submissions, today.

In total, more than 5.2 million Americans filed for unemployment last week, the federal government said Thursday, bringing the total number who have sought those benefits over the past four weeks to around 22 million.

The seasonally adjusted percentage of people on unemployment stood, as of April 4, at 8.2 percent. Per the U.S. Department of Labor, that is an ignominious new record.

To put it a different way, the United States gained about 22.2 million jobs during the decade of the 2010s. In a month, virtually all those gains were destroyed.

Horrifying as those numbers may be, at some point the country and the state will reopen. People will return to work as businesses and organizations open their doors once more.

Yet many uncertainties still surround that reopening, not the least of which is the timetable.

While President Donald Trump and some of his supporters have stumped for a short quarantine (the president still hoped to have the country open by Easter as recently as three weeks ago), officials like Gov. John Carney have emphasized public safety is paramount.

Being “back in business” won’t happen overnight — it’s going to be a transition, a gradual change that takes place in stages.

“We won’t turn the lights back on or move the dimmer switch up a day too soon or a day too late, but we will err on the side of making sure that people are safe and secure, making sure that we’re following the science, that we have the tools we need to test, to isolate and to track,” Gov. Carney said.

But many business owners wonder how much longer that will be, fearing they’ll go under sooner rather than later absent a return to normalcy.

A 2015 study from JPMorgan Chase says the median small business has enough cash to survive for 27 days if money stops coming in.

Delaware closed nonessential businesses March 24 (some places, such as gyms, casinos and movie theaters, were closed earlier) and while exactly what classifies as essential is broader than one might think, there’s a long list of stores and other outlets that have signs proclaiming they are closed due to COVID-19 hanging from their windows.

Such businesses are currently closed until May 15, although that could be extended depending on how widespread the outbreak remains in a month.

The hospitality industry has suffered in a big way and, as this shutdown continues, Delaware’s beach communities could really feel pain.

Among the hardest-hit establishments are restaurants, which were closed for dining in (but not takeout) early on, eight days before the broader category of nonessential businesses were shut down.

“This crisis is decimating our industry,” Carrie Leishman, president and CEO of the Delaware Restaurant Association, said.

Eateries and the like rely heavily on having money on hand — after all, there’s a never-ending list of food, drinks and other supplies needing to be purchased. While some restaurants are serving takeout still, they can’t get by just on that, Ms. Leishman said.

Similarly, some businesses have been able to enhance their online sales, but it’s still not enough.

The biggest thing the government could do for many companies is to provide cash assistance, said several people involved in the business community. According to Ms. Leishman, restaurants, at least, need grants, not loans.

While loosening restrictions to bring customers in might help, businesses have a hole in their finances from several weeks of limited or even nonexistent sales that can’t be filled just by ending the isolation practices.

“This is always going to be like they’re starting all over again,” Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce President Judy Diogo said.

Ms. Leishman had a similar sentiment, while Damian DeStefano, the director of the Delaware Division of Small Business, agreed access to capital is going to be key to a successful restart.

“They’re going to need cash in order to restock their inventories,” Mr. DeStefano said.

The impact on thousands and thousands of workers can’t be understated either, as evidenced by the record-smashing number of unemployment claims.

It’s a tense situation with lots of sleepless nights, according to Kurt Foreman, head of the Delaware Prosperity Partnership. The partnership, a public-private collaboration that serves as one of the state’s main economic development tools, conducted a survey of companies that reported the median survival time in a shutdown is eight weeks, Mr. Foreman said. Nonessential businesses have been closed for 24 days now.

Businesses may have the opportunity to take advantage of the government programs on the table, although eligibility requirements do vary.

“There is help out there,” Mr. Foreman said. “It does require some effort, but there are people and there are lots of both federal and state folks ready to help.”

The Division of Small Business has a list of possible resources for area companies at https://business.delaware.gov/coronavirus/.

Still, the current offerings aren’t sufficient for everyone, especially if the situation drags on, Ms. Leishman said, citing the Paycheck Protection Program. Loans from that initiative are only good for eight weeks, she noted.

That’s why she feels a sense of urgency and wants restaurants to be among the very first businesses to reopen. Reopening these places will not just be beneficial for restaurant owners and employees, Ms. Leishman believes, but will also provide some relief to the public, offering a reminder this pandemic isn’t forever.

“I think opening restaurants sooner rather than later will help calm our citizens,” she said.

Many issues still must be resolved before that, however.

University of Delaware professor Jennifer Horney said Delaware will need to ensure the growth of its caseload is slowing, the state has an adequate supply of protective equipment for health care workers and others, rapid testing is available for anyone and the spread of the virus from individuals can be better tracked.

She is hopeful society can slowly return to a new normal after May 15, although that process is “probably going to involve some starts and stops and starting again.”

Dr. Horney, who works in UD’s Disaster Research Center and serves as the founding director of its epidemiology program, touted a regional coalition Delaware joined this week to help coordinate a resumption of daily activities.

The participating states — Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts — will each send three designated individuals to “develop a fully integrated regional framework to gradually lift the states’ stay at home orders while minimizing the risk of increased spread of the virus.”

Delaware’s representatives on the task force will be Mr. Foreman, Health and Social Services Secretary Kara Odom Walker and Sheila Grant, Gov. Carney’s chief of staff.

The partnership recognizes the participants “have one integrated regional economy,” according to a news release announcing the formation.

But while some are confident the agreement will help the states work together and provide consistency, especially for people who live in one state but work in another, Ms. Leishman wants to see Delaware reopen on its own time frame, without tying itself to New York or another jurisdiction.

At any rate, once things do eventually reopen, society is going to look different, at least initially. There may be recommendations or rules to wear masks or protective gear in public, or there could be strict limits on how many people can be in an establishment at one time, to say nothing of the impact on Americans’ bank accounts and states of mind.

Either way, substantial government aid figures to be needed.

Mr. DeStefano believes one of the best things state officials can do for worried business owners is keep them informed. Simply communicating with entrepreneurs regularly and giving them an idea of what criteria decision-makers are looking at as they weigh lifting restrictions is valuable, he said, “because ultimately nobody can say when this will end.”

Unemployment claims

Delaware has seen nearly 62,000 unemployment claims over the past four weeks, almost twice the number for all of 2019. Statistics from the Delaware Department of Labor for the most recent four weeks are below. For comparison, there were 520 claims from March 1-7, the most recent full week before Delaware’s first confirmed COVID-19 case.

March 15-21: 10,720

March 22-28: 18,987

March 29-April 4: 18,863

April 5-11: 13,258


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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