Central and Southern Oregon Coast Economy for 2020

by Erik Knoder

June 16, 2021

The economy of the central and southern Oregon coast lost jobs in 2020 as business restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Job losses occurred first and hardest in the leisure and hospitality industry but quickly spread to all major sectors. The annualized job loss in 2020 was 7.3%.

The economy of the central and southern Oregon coast is mainly contained in Lincoln, Coos, and Curry counties. This analysis is based on economic data for those three counties. The coastal cities of Florence and Reedsport lie in Lane and Douglas counties, but the economies of those counties are dominated by interior cities and they are excluded from this analysis.

January and February of 2020 showed small growth over the year in employment for those jobs covered by unemployment insurance (typically about 90%-95% of total employment). This payroll employment fell by 190 jobs in March 2020 as concerns about the pandemic spread and some business and social restrictions began, then fell by an astounding 8,400 jobs (-17.6%) in April when the full impact of closures was counted for the first time. The downturn lasted only these two months, and by May 2020 employment had increased by 1,680 jobs. Employment increased over the summer before showing a normal seasonal decline in November and December. Payroll employment ended the year 6,230 jobs above its low point in April but 2,780 below its level the previous year in December 2019. Employment since December 2020 has changed only slightly. Jobs were added in January and March 2021 but February and April showed losses.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rates for Coos and Curry counties (6.8% and 6.7%, respectively) were actually a little below their long-run averages in December 2020. Lincoln County’s rate (7.8%) was just slightly above its long-run average. That remained the case for early 2021. The counties’ rates have been higher than the statewide level and higher than pre-pandemic levels, but they indicate that the labor market is actually tighter than pandemic job losses might suggest.

Lincoln, Coos, and Curry counties combined to lose 3,560 payroll jobs covered by unemployment insurance in 2020. Employment in December 2020 was 45,537, which was pretty close to the annual average of 45,240 jobs. The long-run annual growth in employment in these counties is forecast to be about 0.7%; this slow growth potential may affect the region’s ability to regain jobs after the pandemic recession.

Retail trade shed 920 jobs (-14%) along the central and south coast during the pandemic recession. The industry bounced back fairly quickly, however, and by August 2020 was down only 100 jobs from the previous year. As of March 2021 retail trade was actually ahead of March 2020 by 50 jobs, although April showed a slight drop compared with pre-pandemic levels. Essentially, the industry has recovered its pre-pandemic employment.

The Oregon Employment Department collects published stories of business expansions, openings, and closures, mainly from local newspapers. A search of this database revealed only six articles mentioning business expansions in Lincoln, Coos, and Curry counties from January through December 2020. These included expansions at Samaritan Health Services, Wal-Mart, Fred Meyer, and Safeway. A search for new firms revealed 21 articles for firms. These included Stabi Dave’s Bait and Tackle, Tengu Sushi, A Slice of Heaven pizzeria, Basics grocery store, and the Auborn Center for Wellness. A search for business closures yielded 13 articles including Bandon Mercantile Company, Bailey’s Health Food Center, and Forinash Gallery. Many additional businesses closed temporarily due to the pandemic.

The decreases in unemployment, business expansions, and openings all point to an economy for the central and southern Oregon Coast that has mostly recovered from the pandemic recession but still has a considerable way to go. Moderate unemployment rates suggest that the labor market is actually tighter than job losses suggest. The principal risk to future job growth seems to be possible changes in the structure of the labor supply. The lack of affordable workforce housing and child care, aging of the workforce, increasing retirements from the baby boom generation, and lower in- migration can all work to reduce labor supply and constrain growth.

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