Recession Recovery, Expansion, or Not?

by Erik Knoder

March 22, 2018

Most of the counties in Northwest Oregon have recovered from the Great Recession and are seeing their total employment expand to new highs. There are several different ways to count employment so the exact numbers can vary, but Benton County has grown by about 4,500 jobs above its pre-recession high, Clatsop County has added about 800 to 1,000 jobs more, Columbia County is up 300 to 700 jobs, and Tillamook County is showing 200 to 500 more jobs than it had before the recession. Employment growth in Lincoln County, however, has lagged.

Payroll records for the fall of 2017 suggested that employment in Lincoln County had finally regained its pre-recession level. Since then, however, job estimates from employer surveys indicate that the county is still about 600 jobs short of the number it had in 2008. These surveys are more timely than the payroll records, but they are less accurate. Unfortunately, the trend from the employer surveys suggest that employment growth in Lincoln County slowed or stalled in 2017 and the first part of 2018. It also slowed slightly and more recently in Clatsop and Tillamook counties. It is possible that data revisions to the employer surveys will show more growth for the last quarter of 2017 and early 2018. But for now the difference between the two data sources leaves the recent employment trend for the north coast counties unclear.

The employment plateau in Lincoln County isn’t necessarily due to economic weakness. The county’s unemployment rate is near its record low. It may be that employers want to expand, but simply can’t find qualified workers. Although this may be contributing to Lincoln County’s stalled or slow employment growth, some larger areas, such as Benton County and the Salem metro area, continue to add jobs despite their low unemployment rates. For now, the lull in employment growth in Lincoln County, and to a lesser extent in Clatsop and Tillamook counties, is a puzzle. Payroll records for the end of 2017 will be available in May. With luck they will settle the mystery of slow employment growth in a time of economic expansion along the north Oregon coast.

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