These 7 charts show exactly what happened to Delaware's economy

Sarah Gamard Jared Whalen
Delaware News Journal

When we look back on how the pandemic affected daily life this past year, we're sure to remember some key events.

We might first remember that Monday in mid-March 2020 when Gov. John Carney ordered all restaurants had to stop dine-in services. We might remember that first surreal trip to the grocery store when we found barren aisles cleared of toilet paper, cleaning products and frozen food.

We might remember the email from our boss saying we should expect to work from home for a couple of weeks, which then turned into 12 months. We might remember the first time we filed for unemployment. And we might remember not seeing our families in person for Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Delaware Online/The News Journal has used statewide data from the Delaware Department of Labor and Cuebiq, a location analysis company, to show what happened across the state when these things happened.

1. Delaware's grocery store panic

Location data shows that grocery shopping spiked in mid-March 2020, reflecting the flurry of shoppers who feared a breakdown of the supply chain as other aspects of daily life such as restaurant dining and sports events came to a halt.

Grocery store activity stayed high through mid-May, and after that appeared to drop off back to normal if not lower-than-normal levels throughout the summer. Grocery store shopping appeared to back up again slightly in the fall, and then drop off again in the winter.

This data comes from the location analysis company Cuebiq and compares store traffic during the COVID-19 crisis to normal visitation patterns.

2. Restaurant industry's slow recovery

Unsurprisingly, data shows a huge drop-off in casual dining from mid-March to early June.

The initial plunge in mid-March is about equal to the rise in grocery store activity during that same time.

By June, restaurants start seeing higher traffic after Carney allowed them to resume limited-capacity operations at the start of that month. Traffic continued to increase slowly through mid-August and has stayed relatively steady since then despite COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations far surpassing that of the spring.

Food establishments appeared to see a slight drop-off in customers between late November and late December as COVID-19 surged during the holiday season, but activity bounced back by early January.

Restaurant dining has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels, according to the data.

3. Restaurant, hospitality workers bear the brunt of unemployment

With the initial drop in restaurant dining came a spike in unemployed restaurant workers. In the first days of closures came more than 11,000 unemployment claims from food industry workers alone.

The rate of food industry unemployment claims peaked in May. While that rate has slowly declined for the rest of the year, food industry workers consistently led the state in unemployment claims for all of 2020, according to the data. 

Retail workers had the second-highest rate of unemployment claims, followed by health and social services workers. 

By mid-May, hospitals reported losing millions of dollars a day due to increased pandemic-related costs and fewer people seeking care out of fear of the virus. Some health employers reported furloughing staff.

No industry is seeing the same rate of initial unemployment claims that it did in the spring and summer, but more than 1,000 people are still filing new claims each week.

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4. Women more likely to file for unemployment

Throughout 2020, women were more likely than men to file for unemployment in Delaware, according to data from the Department of Labor. In total, women filed roughly 22% more claims than men.

This mirrors the losses women have experienced in the workforce national over the course of the pandemic. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, nearly 11 million jobs held by women disappeared in the early months of the pandemic.

At their peak, the increase in unemployment claims filed by women in Delaware was double that of men. Women saw a 1,290% increase in the number of claims filed in January compared to May. Men saw a 620% increase.

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5. Young adults the most likely to file for unemployment

Young adults were the most likely to file for unemployment last year, according to the claim data. The state saw the highest number of claims from people ages 25 to 34, followed by people ages 35 to 44.

This again reflects the national trend, with those under 25 experiencing a 93% higher rate of job loss than workers 35 and older, according to USA Today.

People 65 and older were less likely to file for unemployment in Delaware. The least likely group to file were Delaware's youngest workers, people aged 16 to 19, whose numbers have roughly returned to roughly their early-2020 levels.

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6. Black, Hispanic workers hit hardest

In a state that is 60% white, it is no surprised that most of the unemployment claims came from white workers.

But when adjusted for population, Black workers were disproportionately hit in the early months of the pandemic. More significantly, the rate of claims for Black workers has been slower to decline and remains twice that White and Asian workers.

A similar trend can be seen among Hispanic and Latino workers.

Reporting has shown that Black and Hispanic Delawareans, already facing disproportionate economic challenges during the pandemic, also live in communities receiving COVID-19 vaccinations at a lesser rate.

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7. Phone location data shows travel drop-offs

Phone location data shows that a significant drop-off at the start of the pandemic, reflecting Gov. John Carney's stay-at-home orders and the beginning of offices' work-from-home regimen.

The mobility data come from Cuebiq, which is able to estimate the "home" of a device by determining where it remains most of the time. The company is then able to determine how often a user travels or is staying put. The value represented is the median of the aggregated movements of all users within a state compared to the previous year.

Travel appears to pick back up by mid-April, return to normal levels by June and then drop off slightly in November.

The holiday-time decline, which pales in comparison to the initial decline in travel, likely reflects restrictions across Mid-Atlantic states and warnings from public health officials to avoid gatherings in order to prevent spreading COVID-19.

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Sarah Gamard covers government and politics for Delaware Online/The News Journal. You can reach her at (302) 324-2281 and sgamard@delawareonline.com. Follow her on Twitter @SarahGamard.

Jared Whalen is a data reporter looking in the numbers to find stories about Delaware. Have a story that needs telling? Contact him at jwhalen@delawareonline.com or on Twitter @jared_whalen.