Jobless rate worsens again in Delaware

DOVER — For the fourth time in five months, Delaware’s unemployment rate has gone up.

Data released by the Office of Occupational and Labor Market Information on Friday shows the state’s unemployment rate increased from 4.8 percent in July to 4.9 percent in August. It remains a full half a percent above the national figure.

However, one of the state’s top economists believes the situation may not be as bad as the numbers indicate.

Because of a small sample size, there’s a large margin of error in the job survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“With Delaware’s unemployment rate rising again and now at 4.9 percent, the search for explanations and remedies is on,” Dr. George Sharpley, chief of the Office of Occupational and Labor Market Information, wrote in a commentary released along with the data.

“That’s a good thing, but the possibility that it isn’t really happening, at least to this extent, should also be considered.

“Statistically, BLS is 90 percent confident that the actual Delaware rate is between 4.2 percent and 5.6 percent; both January’s 4.4 percent and the current 4.9 percent fall within that range. Likewise, we cannot say that the current rate is above last August’s 4.3 percent with even 90 percent confidence. Statistically, they are the same.”

More detailed methods of determining unemployment rate will be complete around February, which means Delaware’s job figures could be revised. Regardless of what might happen there, however, the state has seen a lack of progress in economic growth in recent months, Dr. Sharpley said.

Before April, it had been more than 10 years since the First State’s unemployment rate was higher than the national figure.

Delaware entered the year with an unemployment rate of 4.3 percent, compared to the nationwide rate of 4.9 percent.

“These numbers aren’t where we need them to be, which is why we continue to be focused on our number one priority: helping businesses create good-paying jobs across our state,” Gov. John Carney said in a statement. “I’ve spent much of the past month talking to Delawareans and business leaders about ways to grow our economy, and we will keep working day in and day out on this issue.”

Wage growth has been sluggish for several years, according to Dr. Sharpley.

While there was seemingly a bump in the average at the start of 2017, it was actually due to a number of high-earning executives and others in similar positions receiving bonuses, Dr. Sharpley said.

“So, it’s going to be look like a big increase … but it’s not being spread out across the majority of workers,” he said.

The unemployment rate in Kent County in August was 6 percent, compared to 5.3 in New Castle County and 4.3 in Sussex County, although those figures are not seasonally adjusted. According to the data, 7.6 percent of potential workers in Dover were not employed last month. In August 2016, 6.8 percent were not working.

The leisure and hospitality and the education and health fields have gained a combined 5,200 jobs over the past 12 months, far exceeding other areas.

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