▶️ ‘Mind boggling’ recovery; local employment now above pre-pandemic levels

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Recent revisions to the employment situation using payroll records through June revealed a much stronger job market for most of Central Oregon than was initially estimated, according to the Oregon Department of Employment.

Regional Economist Damon Runberg said the highlight was a significant upward revision to Deschutes County with total nonfarm employment in October now above levels from before the pandemic in October 2019.

“I mean that’s mind-boggling to see that sort of level or pace of recovery in a short period of time,” Runberg said in an interview with Central Oregon Daily News.

Meanwhile, levels of unemployment continued their rapid decline across the region, fast approaching levels from before the pandemic.

But there’s an explanation for why the numbers are so promising while local businesses continue to struggle to find workers.

“These revisions show the region essentially recovered from the pandemic shock and they help to better explain why it has been so difficult for businesses to find workers,” Runberg said. “With the region at or near full-employment it should be very difficult to find workers since most are employed. Businesses are not finding it difficult to find workers since they are sitting on the sidelines, they are finding it difficult to find workers since they are employed elsewhere.”

Runberg added that it is important to note that most of the businesses hiring are expanding operations, not recovering, in order to meet the very high demand for goods and services.

“Those businesses that continue to struggle to find workers tend to be in lower-paying industries as workers find jobs in other industries offering higher wages and/ or better working conditions,” he said.

The labor market will continue to feel very tight until labor demand begins to slow, which will likely happen soon in response to higher prices and diminishing savings, Runberg said.

Deschutes County (Bend-Redmond MSA):

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped significantly in October to 4.9% from 5.2% in September.

The unemployment rate remains higher than before the first impacts from COVID-19 in February 2020 when it was at a record low of 3.3%; however, levels of unemployment are well below the 10-year average of 6.9%.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that Deschutes County added 60 jobs in October.

Typically the county posts seasonal losses in October, Runberg said.

The result was a relatively strong seasonally adjusted monthly gain of 470 jobs (+0.5%) from September.

Recent revisions to Deschutes County’s employment situation using payroll records through June revealed much stronger job growth through the first half of the year than first estimated.

Total nonfarm employment was revised up by over 1,500 jobs. Employment levels in October 2021 exceeded October 2019 levels before the onset of the pandemic by 630 jobs (+0.7%).

Put another way, total nonfarm employment has largely recovered from the pandemic shock, Runberg said.

Job gains over the past year were concentrated in the hard hit leisure sector, adding 1,410 jobs from October 2020 (+12.3%).

Leisure and hospitality employment is now only 3.5% below 2019 levels after shedding 54% of its jobs during the initial stay-at-home order in spring 2020.

There were also large gains in manufacturing (+660 jobs) and construction (+380) over the past year. Job losses were largely concentrated in retail trade (-520 jobs).

Crook County: 

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped significantly to 6.2% in October, down from 6.6% in September.

The unemployment rate is now less than 2 percentage points higher than before the first impacts from COVID-19 in February 2020 when it was 4.4%.

Crook County posted fewer job losses than typically expected in October, resulting in a seasonally adjusted gain of 80 jobs, Runberg said.

Recent revisions using payroll records through June of 2021 revealed stronger hiring through the first half of the year than initially estimated. Employment levels in Crook County are up 5.3% from October 2019 (+360 jobs).

There was strong hiring over the past year with gains concentrated in businesses that support the Prineville data centers. Construction rose 140 jobs from last October and information was up 70.

There was also a gain of 40 jobs in professional and business services.

The only job losses from last year were a modest loss of 20 jobs in transportation, warehousing, and utilities.

Jefferson County:

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 5.8% in October, down from 6.2% in September.

The unemployment rate is fast approaching levels in February 2020 when it was 4.1% before the first impacts from COVID-19. Total nonfarm employment rose by 70 jobs in October on a seasonally adjusted basis.

Recent revisions revealed that job growth was modestly slower than initially estimated through the first half of 2021.

Despite these downward revisions Jefferson County is fast approaching an employment recovery from the pandemic shock with employment in October 2021 only down by 0.5% (-40 jobs) from levels in October 2019.

Job gains over the past year were diverse with strong gains in local government (+100 jobs); retail trade (+60 jobs); leisure and hospitality (+50 jobs); and manufacturing (+50 jobs).

The only notable job losses were in private education and health services that shed 30 jobs from October 2020.

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