State sees marginal improvement in jobless rate


DOVER — Delaware’s unemployment rate dropped by one-tenth of 1 percent to 4.4 percent overall in February, according to a Department of Labor report on Friday.

The state’s jobless rate remains above the national average of 4.1 percent unemployment and had languished at 4.5 percent for five consecutive months prior to the slight decrease in the latest report, noted Dr. George Sharpley, chief of the Office of Occupational and Labor Market Information.

“It’s generally encouraging but doesn’t really show any great strength in the economy,” he said. “It does show some marginal movement in the right direction, though.”

Dr. Sharpley said the data shows the change was due to an decrease in the number of unemployed people and an increase in the number of people with jobs rather than people dropping out of the labor force, which can sometimes have the effect of lowering the rate.

While the unemployment rate fell slightly but, according to a February report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Delaware is one of only four states to actually lose jobs between November and last month — however, it was only one-tenth of a percent lost.

The state’s report chalks this up to small state volatility rather than a disturbing trend — even arguing that Delaware came out of the so-called Great Recession stronger than its neighbors. The February report states:

“Using annual average data, US growth of 1.6 percent last year outstrips any state in our area, whose job growth rates were: NJ 1.3 percent; PA 1.1 percent; MD 0.9 percent; and DE 0.6 percent.

Over the past two years, the story is much the same, with US job growth at 3.4 percent, NJ 2.9, MD 2.1, PA 1.9, and DE 1.7 percent. Go back a few more years, though, and the story changes.

“Since the Great Recession, none of the neighboring states has a single year of 2 percent growth. The US had one year (2015), while Delaware managed three consecutive years of over 2 percent growth (2013-2015). Cumulatively, Delaware has outgrown the neighbors since 2012, even with the recent slowdown. Over the last five years, Delaware had 8.6 percent job growth, while NJ grew by 6.1 percent, MD by 5.6 percent, and PA by 3.8 percent.

The US edged out DE with 9.3 percent growth. Delaware’s job growth was above trend a few years ago and more recently has been below it; we expect it to come in somewhere between the two, closer to the long-term trend, this year and likely next.”

Dr. Sharpley said the downward trend in the unemployment rate is likely to continue, most likely mirroring national figures.

“I can see our rate getting closer to 4 percent as the year goes on,” he said. “That wouldn’t be unusual and would push us closer to where the national unemployment rate is.

“I saw reports from the Federal Reserve’s meeting a few days ago and they’re expecting the national rates to drop into the three percent range this year. If that happens, I’d be surprised if our state didn’t head in that direction too.

“The state’s job growth is currently pretty lackluster and has been for the last few years. But a lot of that has to do with restructuring at DuPont — they’re downsizing. It’s slowed things down.

“Looking at the bigger picture though, Delware’s economy is fairly sound.”

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