How Central Oregon’s Industry UI Claims Differ by County

by Kale Donnelly

May 18, 2020

As we look back on the last couple of months, I’m sure we all want to know – what is Central Oregon’s story in all of this? In the last eight weeks, just over 19,000 Central Oregonians (19,226) had an initial claim for unemployment insurance (UI) processed. Put another way, the weeks ending March 21 through May 9 saw 16.7 percent of Central Oregon’s labor force claim a job loss through the Oregon Employment Department’s UI benefits system. Statewide, 13.5 percent of the state’s labor force had an initial claim for unemployment insurance processed. With the lion’s share of employment in the region, Deschutes County residents accounted for eight out of 10 initial UI claims in the region since March 15, similar to its share of the region’s labor force. In fact, each county’s share of Central Oregon’s total UI claims is strikingly similar to their relative shares of the regional labor force.
Which industries are driving the unemployment insurance trends in the region? Interestingly, each county has a vastly different story in terms of the industries with the greatest number of claimants, and the overall trends of those industries over the last eight weeks. We’re unable to discuss or speculate which businesses’ workers are claiming UI benefits due to confidentiality constraints. One way around this, in order to provide meaningful context to the numbers, is to look to specific layoff events posted in any of the local news publications. While useful, those public entries are limited with respect to the full picture of temporary or permanent layoffs across the region.

Crook County

At the onset of Governor Brown’s stay-at-home order, Crook County saw the greatest number of initial claims in both the construction and accommodation and food services industries. On-site dining was officially restricted on March 16, so workers within the accommodation and food services industry (think restaurants, bars, and hotels) were understandably some of the first individuals to file for unemployment insurance benefits throughout the state. However, construction had a significantly higher share of claims in Crook County in the beginning weeks of the COVID-19 closures, accounting for 28 percent to 33 percent of weekly claims. For comparison, Oregon’s share of claims in construction didn’t even reach double digits in the first few weeks. Crook County’s relatively large share of claims in this sector is more than likely a reflection of a slow down at larger construction projects in order to adhere to social distancing requirements.
In the last four weeks, unemployment claims in the manufacturing sector have surged in Crook County. One likely reason is that one of the most prominent manufacturing employers in the county, Les Schwab Tires Center, announced on April 9 that they would be temporarily furloughing an unknown number of their workers.

Deschutes County

The amenities of the city in Bend and Redmond really show through in the high volume of unemployment insurance claims within accommodation and food services at the onset of the COVID-19 closures. Many restaurants, bars, and hotels were impacted – some of the most notable (and publicly announced) being Deschutes Brewery and McMenamins who laid off a combined 3,300 workers statewide. The industry accounted for nearly half of the county’s claims (44%) for the week ending March 21, and has remained the top industry with the most claims over the last eight weeks. Accompanied with the decline in the share of claims by the restaurants, bars, and hotels industry is an increase in the prevalence of claims in retail trade starting to pick up in April. As weeks of closures went by, retail businesses could no longer hold out for the lifting of those restrictions on the industry. Subsequently, they furloughed many of their workers in the weeks of April due to a decline in customer sales.
Holding a somewhat consistent share of weekly claims over the last eight weeks is the health care and social assistance industry. Housed within this industry are outpatient services, ambulatory services, dentistry, and childcare services – all of which were directly impacted by social distancing requirements and the Governor’s order to halt non-essential medical procedures to preserve personal protective equipment for the state’s hospitals.

Jefferson County

In Jefferson County, the industry with the greatest share of claims not only over the last eight weeks, but significantly so in the last five, is manufacturing. This may not be entirely surprising since manufacturing accounts for more than one-quarter of the private jobs in the county, compared with 14 percent in Crook and roughly 7 percent in Deschutes County. This large share of weekly claims in manufacturing in Jefferson County is likely due to a significant layoff event by Bright Wood, according to the Bend Bulletin. Bright Wood is a prominent wood product manufacturer in not only Jefferson County, but also Central Oregon as a whole.
Following in line with the statewide figures, Jefferson County’s share of UI claims in the accommodation and food services sector has remained in the top three affected industries to date. Health care and social assistance ranks third for the most total initial claims in the county, but has seen a decrease in the number of filings from that industry.

A Noteworthy Conclusion

One thing to note is that claims from self-employed and independent/gig contractors through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) system are not included within these figures. Although the CARES Act provides federal funding for PUA benefits, each state’s Unemployment Insurance Division is tasked with paying these benefits out to eligible applicants as long as they don’t qualify for regular state benefits.

The Oregon Employment Department is continuously improving its delivery of data, benefits, and answers to frequently asked questions to those seeking more information about COVID-19 related items and impacts. Damon Runberg, Regional Economist for Central and South Central Oregon, is also frequently updating the characteristics of the COVID-19 unemployed as new data rolls in. As we all navigate the turbulent waters ahead, it’s important to remember that all of the counties have had a different experience with their impacted industries. As many of Oregon’s counties entered phase one of three to reopen on May 15, what’s most essential is to remember that each claim is much more than just a number – it’s an individual without work waiting to go back amidst these uncertain times.

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