Oregon added jobs at a modest pace in May and the employment rate remained at 5.9%, unchanged from April’s revised tally.
The state added 6,900 jobs in May, according to data out Tuesday from the Oregon Employment Department, compared to an average of 11,400 jobs over the prior four months. Oregon has now recovered just 62% of the jobs lost in the first month of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The state’s jobless rate is roughly even with the national rate, which was 5.8% last month.
Hotels, restaurants and bars are responsible for 43% of all Oregon jobs lost to the pandemic. And while relaxed health restrictions have allowed most to reopen, employment in the leisure and hospitality sector is picking up slowly.
Those industries added just 1,600 jobs in the past two months, the employment department said, and have 46,700 fewer jobs than it did before the pandemic.
Restaurant owners, retail stores and other service sector employers have complained for months that enhanced jobless benefits, notably a $300 weekly unemployment bonus that continues through Labor Day, are giving prospective hires an incentive to stay home.
Many national chains, from Costco to Amazon to Chipotle, have offered bonuses or raised their starting wage in an effort to lure workers off the sidelines.
Acknowledging the labor squeeze, the employment department is beginning to nudge benefits recipients back to the job market. Beginning Saturday, some unemployed Oregonians will have to register with the state’s iMatchSkills program in order continue receiving benefits. The rest must register within the next few weeks.
And by the end of July, Oregonians collecting unemployment benefits will have to demonstrate they are actively looking for work to remain eligible for aid. That’s standard practice during normal economic times, but Congress allowed states to suspect that requirement during the pandemic.
While the jobless rate hasn’t moved much in recent weeks, though, other economic barometers suggest thousands of Oregonians are indeed going back to work. The number of people collecting state unemployment benefits plunged by 80,000 in the first five months of the year.
“Oregon is still seeing a tremendous amount of hiring,” employment department economist Gail Krumenauer said Tuesday. The state added 52,500 in the first five months of the year, she said, equivalent to 20 months of job gains in the period before the pandemic recession.
Oregon’s jobless rate hasn’t changed much since December, but it’s a technical figure that doesn’t capture the decline in people collecting benefits or the pace of recovery in certain segments of the economy.
On Tuesday, for example, the employment department said six broad labor categories – trade, transportation, finance, information, construction and professional services – are within 3% of returning to their pre-pandemic levels.
And some parts of the state have largely recovered from pandemic downturn. That’s especially true in rural Oregon communities that are less dependent on leisure and hospitality jobs.
Those places weren’t hit nearly as hard by the pandemic recession. Crook, Wallowa, and Harney counties had already regained all their lost jobs by April, according to the employment department.