Oregon unemployment rate below national average

Although the jobless rate slipped below the U.S. average for the first time since 1996, long term unemployment stays high.

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The last time Oregon had a lower unemployment rate than the national average was 1996. A report released Tuesday found that the state has a 5.4 percent jobless rate while the United States is 5.5 percent.

From OregonLive.com:

But researchers at the Oregon Employment Department say even that thin margin is a clear sign of the state’s accelerating job growth. Employers added 56,100 jobs in the past year, including 4,300 in March. At the same time, Oregon’s unemployment rate declined from 7.1 percent to 5.4 percent. It fell from 5.8 percent to 5.4 percent between February and March. 

Oregon was among the states hit hardest by the recession, and consistently faced one of the highest unemployment rates nationwide. At the worst of the economic crisis, Oregon’s unemployment rate was 11.9 percent, well beyond the U.S. average of 9.4 percent. 

The state’s mild winter may have made the development possible. Warm temperatures created opportunity on the West Coast, while the East Coast was mired in a freezing winter.

The Portland Tribune reports:

State officials said two factors benefitted Oregon’s economy: First, the weather was unusually mild during much of the first three months of the year, boosting Oregon’s employment in weather-dependent industries higher than normal levels. Second, the plunge in oil prices since mid-2014 led to lower gasoline and other fuel prices which helped Oregon consumers and may have led to more demand for some goods and services.

Another reason for Oregon’s declining unemployment rate is rapid job growth, officials said. Employment growth accelerated during the past two years, reflecting a strengthening economy and contributing to a tightening labor market. The state’s payrolls grew by 56,100 jobs in the 12 months ending in March. Since March 2014, two major industries each added more than 10,000 jobs: professional and business services (up 1,500 jobs) and health care and social assistance (up 10,300 jobs). Other major industries such as manufacturing; transportation, warehousing and utilities; and leisure and hospitality, added jobs this year.

But while the jobless rate news is welcome, the state still has a high rate of long term joblessness.

OregonLive.com reported on one major difference between 1996 and now.

Unlike that era, though, one-third of unemployed Oregonians this time have been out of work for six months or more. That rate shot up to 46 percent in the middle of the recession, but employers are still hesitant to hire people who have been unemployed long-term. The problem is especially severe in rural communities, which are struggling to bring jobs back at all.

“Growth in new business has been very, very slow in this area,” said Donna Bowman, executive director of Klamath and Lake Community Action Services in Klamath Falls. “I don’t think we’re moving as fast as the rest of the state.”

Wages in the state are also stagnating, according to the OregonLive.com report.


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