Oregon unemployment rate improves, though hiring slows slightly

Oregon’s unemployment rate improved in June — even as the national rate crept back up.

The state and national jobless rates were both the same in May: 5.8%. But in June, the U.S. unemployment rate crept up to 5.9%, while Oregon’s went down to 5.6%. The state’s improvement continues a trend that started in the beginning of 2021 in Oregon, when it was as high as 6.2%.

“Oregon has added back 64% of the jobs that were lost in spring 2020, compared with 70% for the U. S.,” said employment economist Gail Krumenauer with the Oregon Employment Department. “While that leaves a big gap to get back to pre-pandemic levels, hiring is happening quickly so far in 2021.”

Krumenauer said the state has added 57,000 jobs this year, but the pace of hiring slowed down a little in June. State employment officials point out that employers had been adding an average of 10,000 jobs per month since the beginning of 2021, but in June that shrank to about 7,500 additional jobs in the state.

State employment officials have been nudging people who’ve been relying on unemployment benefits in recent months to get back to work. They’ve re-established an emphasis on people searching for work by requiring participation in the state’s iMatchskills program.

The health care and social assistance sector was responsible for the greatest share of June job gains in Oregon, with 2,400 jobs created. But economic gains continue to be uneven across other sectors.

Employment officials note that some parts of the economy have bigger payrolls now than they did before the pandemic. Transportation and warehousing, state government and the “professional and technical services” sectors have all grown to employ slightly more workers than before the pandemic.

But the recovery is far from complete. Several big pieces of the Oregon economy continue to employ significantly fewer workers than they did before the pandemic. Leisure and hospitality is 22% below pre-pandemic employment levels, several facets of manufacturing are down double-digits from late 2019, and local government payrolls are down 9%.

And while some employers have said they’re having trouble finding workers, state employment officials noted that many out-of-work Oregonians have been in this situation for more than a year. The agency’s June count of the long-term unemployed found 40,000 people who’d been out of work for a year or more. Agency officials say that’s five times more than the average over the three years before the pandemic.

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