Central Oregon’s Initial Road to Recovery After the COVID-19 Impacts

September 4, 2020

As the counties of Central Oregon have been weathering the proverbial storm of COVID-19’s economic impacts, it’s helpful to reflect on where we were before the clouds rolled in, and see how we’re doing today in comparison.

Following the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, employment dropped sharply across the U.S. and Oregon, with each of the state’s counties facing job losses of different proportions. Those counties with higher shares of employment in the leisure and hospitality sector were disproportionally impacted by COVID-19-related job losses. The leisure and hospitality sector was the hardest hit sector across the state due to restrictions placed on in-person dining and public gatherings. Not so coincidentally, those very same counties have also seen swift upswings in their employment as the state gradually reopened. After entering Phases 1 and 2 of Governor Brown’s reopening plan, many of Oregon’s restaurants and bars were able to hire back a large share of the workers they had previously laid off.

There were substantial losses to total nonfarm employment from February 2020 (pre-COVID) to the depths of each county’s economic shocks from COVID-19. In the months of March and April, Crook County shed 12.2 percent of total nonfarm employment, Deschutes County lost 16.7 percent, and Jefferson County lost 18.9 percent. In fact, Jefferson County was one of the most significantly impacted counties in the state.
The rebound in jobs has been swift and robust, yet Central Oregon’s recovery largely lags behind Oregon’s, as a whole. As of July 2020, Crook County’s total nonfarm employment remains 9.9 percent below pre-COVID-19 employment levels, Deschutes County remains 10.1 percent below, and Jefferson County remains 16.2 percent below. Statewide total nonfarm employment levels are currently 8.6 percent lower than in February.

From another perspective, we can look at how many of the jobs lost during COVID-19 have been recovered so far. Crook County has recovered nearly 19 percent of the jobs lost during the initial economic shocks, Deschutes County has recovered about 40 percent of the jobs lost, and Jefferson County has recovered roughly 12 percent of the jobs. Jefferson County lost the highest share of total nonfarm jobs in the region and lost one of the highest shares of jobs in the state. Additionally, the county’s job growth through July has been slower than most counties across the state. These two measurements together hint at Jefferson County having a longer road to recovering the jobs lost earlier this year.

Regardless of whether a county ranked near the top or bottom of the chart above, the relative impact of COVID-19 throughout every labor market was damaging. Although Phases 1 and 2 of Governor Brown’s reopening strategy have helped bolster the initial recovery, we will likely begin to see the pace of the employment recovery slow as we move forward without a significant long-term solution to the health crisis.


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