South Coast Labor Force, Employment, and Unemployment

by Guy Tauer

March 18, 2021

Newly revised data from the Local Area Unemployment Statistics Program (LAUS) gives a look at trends at South Coast employment and unemployment. Before the pandemic struck, unemployment rates at the South Coast were at record low points. In 2019, the annual average unemployment rate fell to 4.9% in Coos County and 5.2% in Curry County. Those annual averages mask the story that unemployment rates fell during the year. Coos County’s unemployment rate began 2019 at around 5.5% and by end of the year had dipped to 4.0% – a record low going back to 1990. Curry County also saw rates decline throughout 2019 and reach a low point in December 2019. Subsequently, with the pandemic gripping our economy and exacting an incalculable human toll, rates spiked to record peaks in just one month. Curry County’s highest unemployment rates during the Great Recession reached 14.0% during the spring of 2009, while the peak in 2020 reached 17.7% in April. Curry County’s unemployment rate reached 18.5% in April 2020, a bit higher than the worst month of the Great Recession when rates reached about 13.8% in April and May 2009.

In the pandemic recession, the period of higher unemployment rates seems to be much shorter, as long as present trends continue. During the Great Recession, Coos County’s unemployment rate remained at 10% or higher from November 2008 through September 2013 – nearly 60 months. In 2020, the South Coast’s unemployment rates were 10% or higher for only four months. The pandemic effect on the unemployment rate estimate was similar for Oregon and the U.S.

The unemployment rate is the share of the unemployed within the civilian labor force.  The other portion of the civilian labor force is the employed residents of an area. As you might expect, the number of unemployed spiked during the spring of 2020 and has since trended lower, but remains above the pre-pandemic level at the South Coast. About 1,100 Coos County workers were unemployed before the pandemic struck. That figure spiked to 6,000 just one month later in April 2020. By January 2021 the number of unemployed receded to about 1,900. The number of unemployed in Curry County’s labor force jumped from about 410 before the pandemic to more than 1,500 in April 2020. Most recent estimates as of January 2021 show about 680 unemployed residents in Curry’s labor force.
The South Coast civilian labor force has grown since the start of the pandemic. The Coos County labor force data is a bit choppy over the past year or so, with the number rising to reach 27,000 by April 2020 before again dipping to 25,400 in September 2020. Since that time, the estimate of total labor force rose to reach 27,600. Curry County also had a slight decline in the labor force totals during the summer months, dipping to 8,400 in July 2020 before rising to 9,300 by January 2021.

The number of employed residents in Coos County’s civilian labor force fell sharply at the start of the pandemic, falling from 25,000 in March 2020 to 22,000in April. By January 2021, Coos County total employed rose and was estimated at 25,700. Curry County saw a similar drop with total employed reaching a pre-pandemic peak in March 2020 of 8,400 before dropping to 7,300 just one month later. By January 2021, total employed residents reached 8,600 in Curry County.


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