Employment Impacts of COVID-19 in Eastern Oregon in 2020

by Christopher Rich

October 7, 2021

Total nonfarm employment dropped in Eastern Oregon in 2020. Annual average employment declined 3.3%, a loss of 2,246 jobs. Employment had climbed continually in the region since 2014. However, the COVID-19 pandemic brought an abrupt about face as firms moved to adapt to changing health measures, workplace outbreaks, and labor supply issues. Nonfarm employment fell to 66,836 jobs as both the private sector and the public sector experienced reductions. Annual average employment data shows the private sector dropped 3.1% or 1,568 jobs. Only three broad-level private-sector industries managed overall gains for the year. Meanwhile, the public sector fell by 3.8% for a loss of 677 jobs. Local government took the brunt of public-sector losses. State government rose by 1.8%, adding 66 jobs. The federal government was essentially flat.
Overall Loss in Most Industries

Private-sector employment dropped to 49,476 for Eastern Oregon in 2020, although the private sector did maintain a hold on 74% of the region’s total nonfarm jobs—unchanged from 2019. Losses came in most broad-level private-sector industries. Leisure and hospitality cratered at the start of the pandemic, dropping 2,153 jobs in April 2020, a 35.1% loss for the industry and nearly half of all private-sector jobs lost in April. Leisure and hospitality continues to add back jobs, but the industry finished 2020 with an annual average employment loss of 876 jobs (-13.5%). The goods-producing industry saw the second largest loss, primarily in manufacturing. The industry cut 1,007 jobs in April 2020 for an 8.9% loss but quickly regained most of these over the next three months. The impact was a 4.0% drop (-465 jobs) in annual average employment for goods producing in 2020.

Three industries saw growth for the year. Wholesale and retail trade stocked up as the trade industry shelved a 1.1% gain and managed to pack on 122 jobs. Retail trade was third on the list for job vacancies in 2019 and again in 2020 according to the annual Eastern Oregon Job Vacancy Survey, and the industry may have benefited from an increased labor supply due to job losses in leisure and hospitality. Wholesale trade was 11th on the list in 2019 and 12th in 2020. Professional and business services added 117 jobs for a 3.7% gain while information broadcast the only other gain at the broad industry level, adding 36 jobs for a 4.4% gain.

Public-sector employment fell to 17,360 in 2020. Local government education dropped to 6,359, a loss of 503 jobs or 7.7%. The loss manifested mainly during the fall 2020 portion of the school year as many larger districts struggled to return to full-time in person learning. Local government non-education fell to 5,556, down 232 jobs or 4.0%, as many in-person services scaled back. A large portion of the local government non-education loss was seen in Umatilla’s Indian Tribal government employment. State government went the other way, rising to 3,677 jobs, up 1.8%. Gains in the industry were seen predominately in the Oregon Department of Human Services and at the Two Rivers Correctional Institution.

COVID-19 Upends Typical Seasonal Swing

Eastern Oregon industries typically experience seasonal swings to some degree, although certain industries are relatively stable and see little movement throughout the year. Most industries generally see their yearly low level of employment in January or February and then reach their yearly high level in July or August. Local government education falls outside of this pattern with a typical low in July and a typical high in November, which follows the trend of hiring and layoffs during the swing of the school year.

In 2020, local government education followed its long established downswing with a July low of 4,502. State government, and professional and business services followed suit with lows in January (3,598 and 3,078, respectively). Federal government and financial activities also fell within historical seasonal patterns for their low month. Six of the remaining eight broad-level industries saw the low come in April. The other two saw the bulk of losses in April but slipped a skosh more for a low in May. Neither month is typically a low point or high point for any Eastern Oregon industry.
Four industries saw their high point come in a month that fits their typical seasonal trend: federal government, state government, local government non-education, and professional and business services. Five industries saw their high point come in January, February, or March, prior to the pandemic. Each of these five industries typically sees their high point in late summer or fall, which means they had yet to fully recover jobs lost during the pandemic by the end of 2020.

Labor Force Continued to Grow

Eastern Oregon’s total labor force continued to grow in 2020. The annual average labor force added 725 people for a gain of 0.9%, triple the growth seen in 2019. The large gain came as Malheur County added 278 people (+2.3%). The county continued to see one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state during the pandemic, with relatively strong hiring demand outside of a few specific industries. Umatilla added 201 to the labor force as Baker added 135. Malheur, Umatilla, and Baker counties made up 85% of the region’s labor force growth. Just one county in the region saw the labor force shrink in 2020. Morrow County lost 57 people, sliding by 1.0%.
The annual average number of unemployed reversed course in 2020, as the total ballooned to 5,648, increasing by 1,683. The total number of unemployed had decreased in 2019 by 165, moving the annual average unemployment rate to 4.7%. The average unemployment rate for Eastern Oregon jumped in 2020 by 1.9 percentage points to 6.6%.

The total number of unemployed increased in each county for the year with all counties seeing higher unemployment rates. Umatilla County averaged 763 more unemployed throughout the year, the largest increase in the region. Umatilla’s unemployment rate rose from 4.7% in 2019 to 6.8% in 2020. Union County saw the second largest increase to the number of unemployed (+374) as well as the largest unemployment rate increase, jumping 3.1 percentage points to 7.8%. Both counties experienced larger impacts to manufacturing employment than other Eastern Oregon counties. Harney County saw the smallest increase with the number of unemployed rising by 30 and the unemployment rate increasing by 0.7 percentage point to 5.9%.
Losses at the County Level

All eight Eastern Oregon’s counties saw a loss in total nonfarm employment for 2020. Losses ranged from 0.3% in Morrow County to 5.6% in Union County. Losses were seen in total government employment in all counties and in the private sector in all but Morrow County.

Baker County lost 255 nonfarm jobs for the year (-4.6%). Private-sector employment dropped by 228 jobs (-5.2%) while government employment slipped by 27 jobs (-2.3%). Baker’s largest loss was in leisure and hospitality (-19.2%). The industry lost 208 jobs at the start of the pandemic, saw some rebound early on but failed to reach seasonal expectations during the summer, and then finished the year down 122 jobs on an annual average basis. Other industries with notable losses were goods producing (-44 jobs), other services (-24), local government education (-23), and financial activities (-18).

Grant County nonfarm employment fell by 3.3% for the year with a loss of 82 jobs. The private sector split the loss with the public sector. Private-sector employment lost 41 jobs (-3.0%) while public-sector employment also lost 41 jobs (-3.8%). Like Baker, the largest loss for Grant came in leisure and hospitality, down 30 jobs or 13.2%. Goods producing dropped 16 jobs, local government education dropped 15 jobs, and the federal government dropped 13 jobs. Wholesale and retail trade added 16 jobs for the year with a gain of 6.2%. Movement was relatively light in other industries.

Harney County lost 63 jobs in total nonfarm employment for a decrease of 2.6%. The majority of losses were in the private sector, down 47 jobs or 3.5%. The public sector lost 17 jobs or 1.6%. The largest loss was in local government non-education. The industry shed 20 jobs for a loss of 4.7%. Leisure and hospitality lost the second largest number of jobs, down 15 or 15.2%. Financial activities along with wholesale and retail trade shed 10 jobs apiece.

Malheur County dropped 197 nonfarm jobs in 2020 (-1.6%). The private sector took the largest hit, down 130 jobs or 1.5%. Government employment fell by 67 jobs or 2.0%. Leisure and hospitality showed the largest loss as the industry fell by 146 for the year, down 12.3%. Local government education showed the second largest loss, down 106 jobs or 7.4%. Wholesale and retail trade experienced a significant boost on the year, gaining 130 jobs for 5.3% growth. The industry’s growth was seen entirely in retail trade.

Morrow County’s nonfarm employment slipped by 0.3% in 2020, a relatively minor decrease of 15 jobs. Morrow gained 24 jobs (+0.6%) in the private sector while shedding 39 jobs (-3.8%) in the public sector. The goods-producing industry dropped 156 jobs (-7.8%), which was counter balanced by a gain of 150 jobs (+57.0%) in professional and business services. Transportation, warehousing, and utilities fell by 31 jobs, down 10.1%. Local government education fell by 40 jobs, down 10.0%.

Umatilla County’s total nonfarm job count fell 3.4% in 2020, with a loss of 969 jobs. Private-sector employment dropped by 619 jobs for a loss of 2.9%, while public-sector employment dropped by 349 jobs for a loss of 4.8%. Umatilla maintained the common theme with the largest loss seen in leisure and hospitality. The industry fell by 353 jobs for a loss of 13.4%. Other private-sector industries with large losses were goods producing (-192 jobs) and other services (-85 jobs). Public-sector losses came in local government education (-169 jobs) and local government non-education (-175 jobs), which was seen largely in Indian Tribal government employment.

Union County’s total nonfarm employment fell by 5.6% in 2020, down 597 jobs. Private-sector employment dropped by 474 jobs (-5.8%). Public-sector employment dropped by 123 jobs (-5.0%). Leisure and hospitality came away with the largest loss. The industry finished the year with a loss of 166 jobs (-15.8%) on an average annual basis. Other industries saw sizable reductions as well. Goods producing dropped by 99 jobs (-5.3%); education and health services dropped by 87 jobs (-4.8%); transportation, warehousing, and utilities dropped by 75 jobs (-16.3%); and wholesale and retail trade dropped by 53 jobs (-3.1%). Local government education was down 120 jobs or 8.3% in 2020.  

Wallowa County’s total nonfarm employment slipped by 69 jobs (-2.7%) in 2020. The private sector saw the majority of losses, down 53 jobs or 2.8%. Government employment shed 15 jobs for a 2.2% loss; this was predominately in local government education, which was down 18 jobs or 9.0%. Leisure and hospitality slipped by 38 jobs (-13.9%), which was caused by a lag of roughly one month in seasonal hiring at the start of the pandemic.

A Final Note

The preceding report uses Current Employment Statistics (CES) data 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. This report offers a high-level summary of changes in Eastern Oregon’s annual average employment statistics in 2020. Its broad scope overlooks many finer details and doesn’t touch on job growth or industry recovery seen in 2021. If you have questions, feel free to send me an email: Christopher.M.Rich@Oregon.gov.

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