Economic recovery has slowed dramatically for much of Central Oregon after several months of robust hiring.
Unemployment rates plateaued in April, but job gains remain steady with normal seasonal patterns.
“April was a bit of a surprise for all of us in the labor and employment world,” said Damon Runberg, a regional economist with the Oregon Employment Department. “Similar to what we saw at the national level as well as the state releases, April was pretty disappointing as far as the recovery trajectory we saw from the COVID pandemic.”
Runberg says the unemployment rate was flat and hasn’t improved as quickly as the improvement on the employment side.
Deschutes County’s April unemployment numbers were 6.3%, Crook County 7.6% and Jefferson County 7%, all above the 6.1% national average and 6% state average.
Meanwhile, state unemployment insurance paid more than $16 an hour, on average, in April.
“It is a factor, one of the numerous factors that are making it difficult to hire workers,” said Runberg. “It is something that we are going to see the work search requirements come back, which will put more job applicants out there.”
Those work search requirements were on hold during the pandemic.
So people getting unemployment benefits didn’t need to prove they were looking for work.
That ends July 31 for many.
“Half the people on unemployment today are on that temporary layoff, so even if that work search requirement comes back today, 50% of those people won’t be required to look for work.”
We may find out soon how much impact employment benefits are having on finding employees.
“I guess you can say it will be a natural experiment to see of all of a sudden it is instantly easy to find workers when we see the work search requirement back into play, but I don’t think it will be,” said Runberg. “I think our labor markets today look much more similar to what they looked like before the pandemic, we are nearly recovered.”
Runberg says Central Oregon has added back nearly 15,000 of the 17,500 jobs lost during the pandemic.
“So the vast majority of folks are back employed and have recovered their jobs,” he added. “So, we are making incredible progress in a short period of time.”
Things are still projected to improve.
“I would not be surprised if we are fully recovered by July,” said Runberg. “I think more likely by September, the end of summer, we will be dang near fully recovered in Central Oregon.”