Oregon’s Jobs Recovery Strengthens (So Far) in 2021

by Gail Krumenauer

August 30, 2021

While the pandemic recession officially ended in April 2021, the spread of COVID-19 has continued into 2021. After starting the year under renewed health and safety measures, restrictions began to lift in March 2021. In late June, Oregon’s economy fully reopened.

Hiring at Record Pace

As Oregon’s economy moved towards phased and full reopening, employers rapidly added jobs. Total nonfarm payrolls grew by nearly 75,000 jobs in the first seven months of 2021. Those seven months of gains outpaced the total nonfarm job gains of any full calendar year going back at least three decades.
Lower Unemployment

Oregon’s unemployment rate improved from 5.6% in June to 5.2% in July. This was a significant drop in the unemployment rate over the month, and continues a trend of rapid improvement. Oregon’s unemployment rate has improved by 1 percentage point since the beginning of 2021. In the 15 months since the state’s unemployment rate hit its all-time high of 13.2%, it fell by 8 whole percentage points. Oregon’s labor force has been growing, and unemployed workers continue finding jobs.
Expanding Sectors

Two sectors of Oregon’s economy have grown notably, and now have more jobs than they did before the pandemic recession. The first is professional and technical services – companies that provide architectural, engineering, and computer design, legal, and other services. These employers had 3,300 more jobs this July than in February 2020.

The second is transportation, warehousing, and utilities – which includes package delivery, and the distribution system that gets them to our doors. After growing rapidly during the pandemic, growth in this industry has slowed recently, but remains 1,900 jobs above its pre-pandemic level.
Rebounding Industries

Some sectors of the economy hit hardest by the recession or struggling to recover have been making gains in recent months. Leisure and hospitality – the sector with the largest numeric deficit to its pre-pandemic jobs level – added 7,100 jobs in July. Leisure and hospitality has added 29,100 jobs so far in 2021. Leading up to the recession, it took the sector 61 months to add about that many jobs.

Local government – about half of which is public K-12 and higher education – lost jobs as schools shuttered in the initial downturn, and continued to decline through much of 2020. While local government has only regained 43% of the jobs lost in the pandemic recession, the sector has added 17,300 jobs so far in 2021. It’s poised for a boost upon the return of fully in-person instruction.

Manufacturing lost 15,600 jobs during the pandemic recession, and had only regained 41% of those jobs as of July. Yet, manufacturers of durable goods – things that last for more than a few years – added as many jobs (3,800) in first seven months of 2021 as they did in 33 months leading up to the pandemic.

Ongoing COVID Risk

Although employment trends have been encouraging – with strong hiring and lower unemployment – we have entered the next phase of the ongoing pandemic. The rise of the Delta variant in August poses both a public health risk and a risk to Oregon’s economic recovery in the fall. Employment effects could come in the form of changes to business operations for public health and safety, or people choosing to forego some of their consumer activity at businesses to avoid the virus.


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