Eastern Oregon Unemployment Rates: How Low Can You Go?

by Christopher Rich

August 7, 2017

Oregon’s unemployment rate has been falling (post Great Recession) since mid-2009. The state’s June 2017 seasonally adjusted rate of 3.7 percent was just a slight uptick from the previous month’s record book rate (3.6%). Eastern Oregon’s unemployment rate is right in line with Oregon’s long-term trend. The combined unemployment rate for the eight county region (Baker, Grant, Harney, Malheur, Morrow, Umatilla, Union, and Wallowa) set a record low of 4.4 percent in June. This was 1.3 percentage points below the August 2007 pre-recession low of 5.7 percent and well below the recessionary high point (11.2%).
Individual counties in Eastern Oregon break out in mostly similar fashion. All Eastside counties, except Morrow, hit record lows in June: Morrow’s record low came in May. Like the state, Morrow County showed a slight uptick over the previous month stepping from 3.6 percent in May to 3.8 percent in June. The county’s recessionary high was 10.1 percent in May 2009.

While a slow return to low unemployment has been the norm among Eastern Oregon counties, all counties finally dropped below their pre-recession low unemployment point by late 2016 or early 2017. Baker County started its descent in winter 2012 and reached a low of 4.8 percent in June 2017. The county’s recession high was 11.2 percent in November 2011. In fall 2012, Grant County started its slow steady return to low. Grant showed marked improvement over the recession high (14.4%) as the county hit 6.2 percent in June. Harney County’s May 2009 rate was 17.0 percent. Harney showed vast improvement with a June 2017 rate of 5.3 percent. Malheur County’s high also came in May 2009 at 11.4 percent, but the county saw its June 2017 rate drop to 3.9 percent. Umatilla’s high of 10.6 percent came in May 2010. The county’s June 2017 record low was 4.2 percent. Union County’s recession high was 12.4 percent in March 2009. Union’s June rate of 4.6 percent moved the county’s unemployment rate still lower on the year. Wallowa County’s unemployment rate climbed down from a high of 13.3 percent in June 2010, to reach 4.9 percent in June 2017.

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