Unemployment in Oregon nears record high as many industries need workers
Salem, Oregon – It appears COVID-19 is behind us as public health officials signal a pivot toward entering the endemic phase. Also, most Oregonians are back to work. Yet it seems that no matter where you go, businesses always have a help-seeking sign in their storefront. But as things return to normal, these companies may not have a chance to fill their vacancies.
“Across Oregon, unemployment rates are at or near their lowest records since at least 1990, which is as far back as we have comparable records,” says Gail Krumenauer, employment economist for Oregon. State at the Oregon Department of Employment. “In March 2022, Oregon’s unemployment rate was 3.8%, which was just slightly above the all-time high of 3.4% we saw in the months leading up to the pandemic recession. “
So why are there still so many industries still struggling to find staff? Krumenauer says it’s a combination of some industries rebounding from the COVID recession, while others never fully recovered all of the workers they lost during the pandemic.
“Some of these are companies in industries that are trying to get back to pre-recession employment levels, and then some are industries that have come back from where they were and grown beyond” , says Krumenauer. “Several sectors of Oregon’s economy have more jobs now than before the pandemic recession. This includes, among others, construction, manufacturing of non-durable goods, transportation, warehousing and services. utilities, retail, real estate, rental and leasing, and professional technical services.
In 2021, Oregon employers added more than 102,000 jobs, creating fierce competition among companies for candidates. Many are unable to fill a vacancy at all.
“Overall, Oregon has recovered about nine out of 10 jobs that were lost during the pandemic recession. Some sectors are not where they were before the pandemic. In particular, health and education. So while some sectors are making progress towards new employment records, others are still trying to get back to where they were before.
Despite the economy coming to a screeching halt as quarantine orders fell and many lost their jobs altogether, the economy rebounded nicely.
“We will fully recover the jobs lost during the pandemic recession by the end of 2022,” Krumenauer said. “It’s remarkably faster than the Great Recession. Which took us about seven full years to recover from.
She adds that the reason is that the economy was booming just before the pandemic hit. And once businesses started to fully reopen, they were ready to go. Leading to rapid rehiring.
With that, many Americans still feel the economy is bad right now and aren’t optimistic about their financial future. A survey from Capital One and Decision Lab found that more than three-quarters of Americans are worried about their financial situation and another from Momentive found that eight out of 10 Americans think a recession is about to hit. Krumenauer explains why many have these negative feelings towards the economy.
“This high inflation that we have seen in recent months seems to cast a shadow over what is otherwise a really strong economy and labor market,” Krumenauer adds. “What probably makes that not the case for a lot of workers is that inflation has outpaced wage growth in recent months.”
Although unemployment levels are approaching record highs, Krumenauer predicts economic headwinds ahead that could prevent the state’s economy from growing as much as it could.
“We have a pretty large cohort of baby boomers who are less than a decade away from retirement.” “The main way Oregon has attracted more workers over the past few decades is what’s called ‘net migration’, that is, people coming from other states. And net migration was down 20% in Oregon in 2020. Much of that was likely due to the pandemic, but it had been down for years before.
So far, no county in Oregon has its own unemployment rate go up in March.