A Glance Back at Eastern Oregon in 2019

by Christopher Rich

March 17, 2020

Total nonfarm employment growth in Eastern Oregon was 0.8 percent for 2019, a few steps up from the 0.4 percent growth rate one year prior. Nonfarm employment reached 68,349 jobs as both the private sector and the public sector expanded. Annual average employment data shows private-sector growth of 0.6 percent for a gain of 316 jobs. A sizeable loss in transportation, warehousing, and utilities hampered overall over-the-year gains in private industry. Meanwhile, the public sector grew by 1.4 percent for a gain of 242 jobs, three-fourths of which came in local government education.
Growth in Most Industries

Private-sector employment climbed to 50,370 for Eastern Oregon in 2019. The private sector accounted for 73.7 percent of the region’s total nonfarm employment: virtually unchanged from 2018. Wholesale and retail trade stocked up with the largest gain. The industry shelved a 1.1 percent loss in 2018, but in 2019 managed to pack on 191 jobs for a gain of 1.8 percent. Information broadcast the second largest gain, as well as the fastest growth rate. The industry added 149 jobs for a gain of 22.4 percent and had a substantial showing in Umatilla County. Education and health services continued to bulk up, adding 100 jobs to take the bronze medal (+1.1%).

Public-sector employment rose to 17,979 in 2019. The government’s overall gain was predominately due to growth in local government education. Education booked 177 new jobs around the region (+2.7%) with the most learned gains at Eastern Oregon University, Treasure Valley Community College, and Pendleton High School. State and federal government each showed small growth, up 1.0 percent and 1.1 percent, respectively.

Losses came in two, broad private-sector industries. Transportation, warehousing, and utilities carried the biggest loss in 2019, as was the case in 2018. The industry unloaded 182 jobs for a loss of 4.3 percent. The goods producing industry cut out a small loss, slipping by 23 jobs for a 0.2 percent decrease.

In comparison, Oregon’s overall growth rate (+1.5%) was nearly double that of Eastern Oregon’s. The state’s private sector grew by 1.5 percent while the public sector grew by 1.4 percent. Oregon saw growth in all broad sectors except for wholesale and retail trade, which shed 700 jobs to nudge down 0.2 percent. In stark contrast with Eastern Oregon, the state’s fastest growth rate was in transportation, warehousing, and utilities. The industry added 4,300 jobs for a gain of 6.5 percent. The most growth for the state came in education and health services, up 5,700 jobs or 1.9 percent. Education and health services barely edged out the goods producing industry, which added 5,600 jobs for a gain of 1.8 percent. 

Summertime Heated Up

In 2019, most Eastern Oregon industries hit their yearly low level of employment in January or February and then reached their yearly high level in July or August. This is in line with historical seasonality trends for the region. May was the hottest month in terms of overall over-the-month gains. Total nonfarm employment picked up by 1,081 jobs (+1.6%) in May as industries such as leisure and hospitality, the federal government, and the goods producing industry geared up for the summer season. Many jobs added during the spring are seasonal and employment for these industries began to drop again in September.

August was the hottest month in terms over-the-year growth in total nonfarm employment. Total nonfarm employment was 984 jobs higher in August 2019 than it was in August 2018. The second hottest month for over-the-year growth was January. January’s nonfarm employment rose 748 jobs above the previous year’s mark. Over-the-year growth was positive in total nonfarm employment, private-sector employment, and government employment for each month in 2019. The single largest over-the-year gain in the private sector was in wholesale and retail trade, which posted 328 jobs more in April 2019 than in April 2018. Wholesale and retail trade saw gains throughout the year. Transportation, warehousing, and utilities weighed on employment gains. The industry saw an annual average loss greater than 4 percent in Umatilla and Union counties, and a loss greater than 10 percent in Malheur County.

Labor Force Ticked Up

Eastern Oregon’s total labor force rose a few points in 2019. The annual average labor force added 262 people for a gain of 0.3 percent, recapturing more than a third of the loss seen in 2018. While in 2018 all Eastern Oregon counties saw a decrease in the labor force, in 2019 just three counties took a hit. Malheur County took the largest loss at 179 people (-1.4%). Losses were much lighter in Morrow and Umatilla. The largest gain came as Harney County added 160 people (+4.7%). Baker saw the second largest gain with the addition of 144 people (+2.1%).
The annual average number of unemployed made headway in the region as well, shrinking by 282 people. This lowered the average unemployment rate for Eastern Oregon to 4.8 percent in 2019 from 5.1 percent in 2018. The total number of unemployed decreased in each county for the year with all counties seeing lower unemployment rates. Union County averaged 68 fewer unemployed throughout the year, the largest decrease. Union’s unemployment rate fell from 5.4 percent in 2018 to 4.8 percent in 2019. Malheur and Morrow counties shared the lowest unemployment rate for the region at 4.1 percent, down from 4.6 percent and 4.3 percent the previous year, respectively.
Gains Positive at the County Level

All eight Eastern Oregon’s counties saw at least some growth in total nonfarm employment for 2019. Five gainers saw growth rates above 1.0 percent while three saw lesser growth. Malheur and Umatilla each rose by less than half a percent.

Baker County added 83 nonfarm jobs for the year (+1.5%). Private employment grew by 78 jobs (+1.8%) while government employment nudged up by 4 jobs (+0.3%). Baker’s largest private-sector gain was in professional and business services (+11.2%). In 2018, the industry dropped by 34; however, the industry rebounded in 2019 adding back 33 jobs. Leisure and hospitality also had a decent showing, rising by 17 jobs for a gain of 2.8 percent. Baker’s losses were relatively small and seen in other services and federal government.

Grant County nonfarm employment rose 3.0 percent over the year for a gain of 70 jobs, a solid rebound after slipping by 19 jobs (-0.8%) in 2018. Private-sector employment saw the majority increase, adding 52 jobs (+4.1%). Government employment rose by 17 jobs (+1.6%). Like Baker, the largest private-sector gains for Grant came in professional and business services (up 17 jobs or 16.7%), and leisure and hospitality (up 10 jobs or 4.7%). Industry losses were light with just four jobs lost in information and four lost in financial activities. Relative to the size of the two industries, however, losses were more pronounced, dropping 8.9 percent and 6.6 percent, respectively.

Harney County added 79 jobs in total nonfarm employment for a gain of 3.5 percent. This was the largest gain among Eastern Oregon counties in terms of percentages. The majority of growth was in the private sector, up 66 jobs for a gain of 5.2 percent. The public sector chugged along with a gain of 13 jobs or 1.3 percent. Private-sector growth was largest in professional and business services, a familiar story for the region. The industry added 38 jobs for a gain of 42.7 percent. Other notables were wholesale and retail trade (up 27 jobs or 7.2%), and leisure and hospitality (up 13 jobs or 4.8%). Meanwhile, Harney saw the goods producing industry fall by 19 jobs, cutting 16.1 percent of the industry’s workforce.

Malheur County added back 31 nonfarm jobs in 2019 (+0.3%) after shedding 66 jobs the year prior. Government employment played the largest part in the county’s overall gain as private-sector employment rose by only six jobs (+0.1%). Total government increased by 25 jobs (+0.8%) with local government education seeing the largest gain, up 22 jobs or 1.6 percent. Local government non-education slipped by 16 jobs for a loss of 2.9 percent. In the private sector, the regional trend continued with a gain of 48 jobs in professional and business services (+11.5%). Transportation, warehousing, and utilities countered the gain with a loss of 44 jobs (-10.4%). Leisure and hospitality added to the drag on employment with a loss of 16 jobs (-1.3%).

Morrow County’s nonfarm employment growth slowed considerably over the year. Morrow added 34 jobs in 2019 (+0.7%) compared with 243 jobs added in 2018. Private-sector employment ticked up 0.2 percent with a gain of nine jobs while government employment increased 2.5 percent with a gain of 25 jobs. The goods producing industry continued to gain ground in the county, adding 62 jobs (+3.2%); the industry added 64 jobs in 2018. Professional and business services tacked on 26 jobs (+11.4%) to follow suit in the region. Local government non-education added 21 jobs (+4.2%) to lead in the public sector. Wholesale and retail trade slipped a bit, dropping 26 jobs for a loss of 6.6 percent. Transportation, warehousing, and utilities slipped as well, dropping 10 jobs for a loss of 3.1 percent.

Umatilla County’s total nonfarm job count rose 0.3 percent in 2019 with a gain of 82 jobs. Private-sector employment was nearly unchanged with a loss of 19 jobs. Public-sector employment added 101 jobs for an increase of 1.4 percent. Umatilla’s largest gain came in the information industry, which grew by 68.8 percent in 2019, adding 165 jobs. Wholesale and retail trade showed the second largest gain, adding 93 jobs for an increase of 2.3 percent. Local government education gained the most in the public sector adding 68 jobs for a gain of 2.9 percent. Professional and business services dropped 179 jobs (-12.7%) as the industry bucked the regional trend. Transportation, warehousing, and utilities threw off 117 jobs for a loss of 4.5 percent.

Union County’s total nonfarm growth was 1.4 percent in 2019, up 146 jobs. Private-sector employment added 96 jobs (+1.2%). Public-sector employment added 50 jobs (+2.1%). Wholesale and retail trade saw the largest private-sector growth with the addition of 66 jobs, a gain of 4.0 percent. Professional and business services added 40 jobs for a gain of 8.4 percent. Local government education gained the most in the public sector, adding 64 jobs (+4.7%). Transportation, warehousing, and utilities saw the largest loss, down 21 jobs or 4.3 percent. Information saw the second largest loss, down 12 jobs or 11.1 percent.

Wallowa County’s total nonfarm employment picked up by 34 jobs (+1.3%) in 2019, twice the gain seen the previous year. The private sector saw the majority of growth, up 27 jobs or 1.4 percent. Government employment grew by six jobs or 0.9 percent. Education and health services added 32 jobs (+8.6%) for the largest gain. Other gains as well as losses were light in comparison.

A Final Note

The preceding report uses Current Employment Statistics (CES) data revised during our annual benchmark process in February as well as Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS). CES data captures jobs covered by unemployment insurance as well as the small number of jobs not covered by unemployment insurance. While this report offers a glance at changes in Eastern Oregon in 2019, its broad scope overlooks many fine details. If you have questions, feel free to send me an email: Christopher.M.Rich@Oregon.gov.

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