Oregon added 8,300 jobs in January, but pace of layoffs remains high

Oregon added jobs again in January, according to new data out Tuesday, recovering from a steep falloff in December. But the pace of layoffs remains high.

Employers added 8,300 jobs statewide in January, rebounding from 27,500 jobs lost the prior month. Oregon was weathering a steep increase in COVID-19 infections at the time and the state imposed new health restrictions, which forced restaurants and bars to end dine-in service in most of Oregon and shut down most gyms.

The state’s jobless rate has now fallen for nine consecutive months but the rate of improvement has grown ever slower. January’s unemployment rate was 6.2%, down just a tenth of a percentage point from December.

The pain of the pandemic remains severe, with Oregon having shed 162,800 jobs in the past year – 8.2 percent of all positions. Leisure and hospitality took the brunt of the hit, dropping nearly 77,000 jobs from the prior year.

However, newly revised numbers show the losses weren’t quite as bad as initially believed. Oregon’s jobless rate peaked at 13.2% in April – not 14.9%, as preliminary estimates had indicated. And Oregon added an average of 8,700 jobs each month in the second half of the year.

The Oregon Employment Department spent nearly a month revising its 2020 employment data, delaying January’s results by a number of weeks.

That’s an annual practice that usually goes unnoticed, but this year the delay makes the January data much less useful in assessing the rapidly changing state of Oregon’s economy. February numbers will be out next week, providing a more contemporary picture.

With COVID-19 cases in sharp decline, though, even those numbers won’t capture the impact of restaurants, movie theaters, gyms and other businesses that began to reopen last month under newly relaxed health restrictions.

On Wednesday, Congress is set to pass President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. That will pump billions more dollars into Oregon’s unemployment program, which also includes an infusion of aid for restaurants and other businesses that could speed their recovery.

For the moment, though, many people continue to struggle. Nearly 7,800 Oregon workers filed new jobless claims in the last week of February, nearly twice as many as in the same week a year ago – just before the pandemic hit.

On top of that, another 7,000 Oregonians filed new claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance – a relief program Congress established in the early days of the pandemic for self-employed workers. The bill now before Congress extends that aid until September.

— Mike Rogoway | [email protected] | 503-294-7699 | twitter: @rogoway |