Oregon Labor Market Information System
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Unemployment in Oregon by Race and Ethnicity Group
by Nick Beleiciks
Published Oct-23-2012

Oregon's unemployment rate averaged 9.4 percent in 2011 and many Oregonians of all race and ethnicity groups struggled to find employment, but the labor market problems faced by blacks and Hispanics were especially difficult last year. The unemployment rate was 21.3 percent for blacks or African Americans and 13.5 percent for Hispanics or Latinos. These figures were considerably higher than the 9.1 percent unemployment rates for whites and the 5.8 percent unemployment rate for Asians.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the labor market difficulties of blacks and Hispanics are related to a variety of factors, not all of which are measurable. These factors include lower average levels of schooling, the tendency to be employed in occupations with high levels of unemployment, a greater concentration in the central cities of urban areas where job opportunities may be limited, and the likelihood of experiencing discrimination in the workplace. These and other factors may make it especially difficult for some black and Hispanic workers to find or keep jobs during economic downturns.

This article uses estimates derived from the BLS's Current Population Survey to describe some of the labor force characteristics of the state's major race and ethnic groups. In some cases, the large error ranges around these sample-based estimates makes it difficult to know for sure if differences actually exist between the employment statuses of the various groups.

Labor Force Participation by Group
The overall labor force participation rate of Oregon residents was 65 percent in 2011, roughly the same as the nation's rate of 64 percent. Among the major race and ethnicity groups, Hispanics had the highest labor force participation rate at 72 percent, followed by whites at 66 percent, Asians at 65 percent, and blacks at 52 percent.

Oregon's Hispanic labor force participation rate was higher than the nation's 67 percent and the state's white participation rate was one percentage point higher than the nation's 65 percent, as shown in Graph 1. The participation rate of Asians in Oregon was virtually the same as the nation, and the participation rate of blacks was lower than the nation's rate of 61 percent.

The labor force participation rate is the percent of the civilian noninstitutional population that is either employed or unemployed. The civilian noninstitutional population includes persons who are 16 years and older, and who are not confined to nursing homes and prisons, or in the Armed Forces.

Graph 1
Labor force participation rate by race and ethnicity 2011 annual averages
Unemployment Rates Increased Among All Groups
The unemployment rate for whites fell from 11.0 percent in 2010 to 9.1 percent in 2011. The unemployment rate for blacks increased from 12.8 percent in 2010 to 21.3 percent in 2011. These changes were statistically significant, suggesting that the labor market conditions improved among whites and worsened among blacks and African Americans in 2011.

Hispanics or Latino unemployment rates increased from 11.6 percent in 2010 to 13.5 percent in 2011. The unemployment rate for Asians increased from 5.2 percent to 5.8 percent. However, the differences in the unemployment rates from 2010 to 2011 for Hispanics and Asians were not statistically significant changes, suggesting that labor market conditions among these groups were essentially unchanged in 2011.

Oregon's total unemployment rate averaged one-half percentage point higher than the nation's during 2011. Among the major race and ethnic groups, the unemployment rate was 1.2 percentage points higher among whites in Oregon when compared to the nation, 2.0 percentage points higher for Hispanics, and 5.5 percentage points higher for blacks. Only Oregon's Asian group had a lower unemployment rate, 1.2 percentage points below the national unemployment rate for Asians.

The unemployment rate is the share of the labor force that is not working, is available for work (except for temporary illness), and made efforts to find employment sometime during the four weeks prior to being surveyed. However, people waiting to be recalled from a layoff do not need to be looking for work to be considered unemployed.

Graph 2
Unemployment rates by race and ethnicity Oregon annual average 2009-111