Job growth stagnant in Delaware

DOVER — There’s not much new cooking when it comes to job growth in Delaware.

In fact, two bellwether industries in the state — temporary help and restaurants — are among the biggest job losers, according to the December 2017 Labor Review released Friday by the Delaware Department of Labor.

The temporary help and restaurant industries were down a combined 2,700 jobs over 2017.

“Restaurants were the first industry to really show growth coming out of the recession and they’ve been a real strong point for the state economy up until this year,” said Dr. George Sharpley, chief of the Office of Occupational and Labor Market Information.

“They’ve probably experienced a little too much growth – more than the market can sustain.”

Overall, the employment picture in Delaware remained relatively stagnant from 2016 to ’17, said Dr. Sharpley.

Delaware’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in December 2017 was 4.6 percent, down from 4.7 percent the previous month. There were 21,800 unemployed Delawareans in December 2017 compared to 20,400 in December 2016.

The U.S. unemployment rate was 4.1 percent in December 2017, unchanged from the previous month. In December 2016, the national unemployment rate was 4.7 percent, while Delaware’s rate was 4.3 percent.

“I’m not sure why each of last two years saw moderate job growth early on and then peter out,” Dr. Sharpley said. “Comparing each month to the year before is kind of surprising.

“You’d think since job growth slowed down at end of last year, that’s a lower base than the end of this year and the numbers would be stronger.”

Dr. Sharpley said that 2016 and ’17 appear to be very similar when it comes to job numbers.

In 2016, Delaware began the year with moderate job growth (about 1.5 percent), which then petered out towards the end of the year, leaving the state with a net 350 new jobs (less than 0.1 percent) created by year’s end.

Last year appears to be very much the same, with early tepid growth (about half that of early 2016) fading to what now appears as if it will be a slight net loss for the year.

Dr. Sharpley said that complete payroll records won’t be available for several more months and could change the current business survey estimate of a small loss in jobs for 2017 to a small gain, but they are not likely to change the overall picture much.

Those looking to gauge the employment climate in Delaware should keep an eye on the temporary help and restaurant industries, said Dr. Sharpley.

“Those industries seem to respond the quickest to changes in the economic climate,” he said. “If it looks like things are starting to pick up for temporary workers and part-time workers in the restaurant industries, that usually means that economic strength is building.”

Kent County’s unemployment rate in December 2017 was 4.2 percent, up from 4.0 percent in December 2016.

Meanwhile, Dover’s unemployment rate for December 2017 was 5.2 percent, up from 5.1 percent a year ago.

Dover is among the cities that has thousands of workers employed in the restaurant industry.

“When it comes to the restaurant industry, it is easier to increase or decrease staff than it is in a lot of other industries,” Dr. Sharpley said.
“It’s a little concerning that temporary labor and the restaurant industry are the biggest job losers right now.

“It could indicate a more generalized slowdown across the industries, but they will turn around quickly when stronger job growth returns.”

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