State unemployment numbers uncertain — net gain of only 400 jobs this year

DOVER — After years of a better-than-average unemployment rate, Delaware continues to falter. Although the state’s unemployment rate of 4.7 percent did not increase from May to June, it has not decreased from one month to another since August, according to data published Thursday by the Delaware Department of Labor.

Delaware’s unemployment rate has been higher than the nationwide average for the past three months. Before March, it had been more than 10 years since the First State’s unemployment rate was higher than the national figure.

It’s an ominous sign for Gov. John Carney’s administration, which has made job creation one of its core goals but has seen a net gain of only 400 jobs this year, placing Delaware in the bottom third among states.

The numbers could be an omen of a recession, or they could be an anomaly.

“It’s not at all clear if this is just a temporary blip and normal growth will return or if this is the tip of the iceberg and the whole nation’s economy’s going to slow,” said George Sharpley, chief of the Office of Occupational and Labor Market Information in the Department of Labor.

The only other states that have seen their unemployment rates stay the same or increase every month this year are Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Delaware was also one of about eight states that saw a decrease in average wages in 2016, and all the other states in that category are energy producers, such as Texas, Wyoming and Louisiana, which suffered from drops in energy prices, Dr. Sharpley noted.

Whether the data should be viewed as a sign of worse things to come or as a bump in the road should be clear by the end of the year, according to Dr. Sharpley.

“It’s either we’re leading the way here in a not very positive manner or it’s just a confluence of things that are slowing the economy down that are just going to be temporary,” he said.

Delaware’s unemployment rate remained between 4.5 and 4.3 percent every month of 2016.

With an unemployment rate of 5.7 percent — albeit not seasonally adjusted — Kent County continues to lag behind New Castle and Sussex.

According to the data, 7.4 percent of people in Dover were not employed in June.

The state has seen decreases in several fields, including wholesale and retail trade, transportation and utilities, and professional and businesses services, over the past year.

On the flip side, leisure and hospitality, education and health, and construction have benefited.

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