Unemployed in Eastern Oregon

by Christopher Rich

August 30, 2018

Unemployment has been on a downhill slide in Oregon since the end of the Great Recession. The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell from a high of 11.9 percent in May 2009 to a record low 3.9 percent in July 2018. Unemployment in Eastern Oregon has followed the state’s long-term trend. The unemployment rate for the combined eight county region (Baker, Grant, Harney, Malheur, Morrow, Umatilla, Union, and Wallowa) hit a record low 4.7 percent in July. This was 0.3 percentage point below the July 2017 rate and 1.0 percentage point below the pre-recession low of 5.7 percent in August 2007. Unemployment in the region today looks a whole lot better than it did when the unemployment rate topped out at 11.2 percent in May 2009.

Individual Eastern Oregon counties break out in mostly similar fashion. Six Eastside counties hit new record lows in July after climbing down from recession-induced peaks in 2009 or 2010. Malheur and Wallowa were the only counties in Eastern Oregon that did not set records in July. Malheur County’s record low (3.9%) came 28 years ago in June 1990. The county’s July 2018 rate (4.1%) however, still represents a drop of 0.5 percentage point since February and a dramatic change from the peak rate (11.4%) in
April 2009. Wallowa County hit a record low (5.5%) in October 2018. The county’s rate remained at 5.5 percent through January, and then ticked up a few notches during the spring thaw as more workers entered the labor market seeking summertime employment. Wallowa’s July rate (5.7%) represents a drop of 0.2 percentage point from the spring rate and a major improvement over the county’s June 2010 peak of 13.1 percent.

Long-term unemployment has been pointed downhill as well over the last several years. The annual average number of job seekers unemployed for more than 27 weeks peaked for both the state and the region in 2010. At that time, 46.1 percent of all job seekers in Oregon and 36.4 percent of those in Eastern Oregon had been unemployed long-term. Prior to the Great Recession, in 2007, 12.6 percent of Oregon’s unemployed and 11.6 percent of Eastern Oregon’s unemployed had been without a job long-term.
The number of long-term unemployed in 2016 was a near return to previous lows. In 2017 however, the steady decrease in unemployment that we had seen since 2011 stalled out and the number of long-term unemployed crept back up a few percentage points. Job seekers without a job for more than 27 weeks represented 19.5 percent of the state’s unemployed in 2017 and 19.8 percent of Eastern Oregon’s unemployed. If unemployment continues to inch lower in 2018, the number of long-term unemployed should follow suit.


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