Oregon’s rapid rebound from the coronavirus pandemic is continuing, with the state’s jobless rate falling from 10.4% in July to 7.7% in August.
The state added 11,300 jobs last month, according to the new numbers Tuesday from the Oregon Employment Department, down from 17,700 jobs added in July.
There were nearly twice as many unemployed Oregonians in August as there were a year earlier, but the continued decline in the jobless rate suggests Oregon is continuing to enjoy an unexpectedly quick recovery from the pandemic recession. Oregon’s jobless rate was 14.9% in April.
And Oregon appears to be improving faster than the U.S. overall – the national jobless rate was 8.4% in August.
Oregon’s new jobless claims have fallen to pre-pandemic levels and the state has recovered 41% of the jobs it lost in the first months after the coronavirus shutdowns hit in March.
Many of last month’s job gains were driven by workers being recalled from temporary layoffs. “Core unemployment” continued to rise. And the wildfires that burned more than 1 million acres across Oregon last month are forcing many workers to stay home, often without pay, and could complicate the state’s recovery from the pandemic.
The biggest job gains last month were in hospitality, retail, construction and the government. All those sectors added more than 3,000 jobs in August.
Still, the hospitality sector – which includes restaurants, bars and hotels — has recovered just over half the jobs it lost early in the pandemic. The retail sector has recovered three-quarters of the jobs it lost.
That’s good news for workers in those fields, which tend to be at the lower end of the wage scale.
“The bad news is that middle-wage sectors are only seeing very modest gains and high-wage sectors are not seeing any growth in recent months,” Josh Lehner of the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis wrote Tuesday. “They may not have suffered as much to date, but they’re also not bouncing back. This is a concern and likely speaks to more permanent layoffs in these industries.”
Sectors that remained near their low point for the year include manufacturing, government, information and business services.
Oregon classified 162,000 workers as unemployed last month, down from 221,000 in July. The state had 82,000 unemployed workers in August 2019. Those numbers exclude self-employed workers who are receiving jobless benefits under a temporary program Congress established in March.
Pandemic job cuts were especially hard on Oregonians because the state, hamstrung by an obsolete computer system, has struggled to pay out unemployment benefits throughout the pandemic.
Oregon has now paid $4.2 billion in benefits to more than 400,000 people altogether, but the employment department says tens of thousands are still waiting for their claims to be adjudicated or otherwise resolved.