Region seeing job growth, but many positions part time


Underemployment rate in Oregon was 16.5 percent for 2013 due to the lack of new full-time opportunities

The Oregon Employment Department recently announced that the state unemployment rate had dropped below 7 percent.

Though this was considered good news, it didn't tell the full employment story.

A recently released report from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that in 2013, Oregon had a 16.5 percent rate of labor underutilization.

Those counted include those individuals calculated in the unemployment rate as well as those who have found work, but seek more hours, and those who have given up searching for a job because of the current economy.

"In 2013, the number of individuals considered to be marginally attached to the labor force in Oregon was 25,600," the BLS report stated. "People marginally attached to the labor force are not working, but indicate that they would like to work, are available for work, and have looked for work at some time during the past 12 months, even though they had not searched for work in the past four weeks preceding the (Current Population) Survey."

The BLS went on to note that 5,900 individuals were counted as discouraged workers. This subset of the marginally attached group believe there are no jobs available and have stopped looking for work.

Damon Runberg, Central Oregon's regional economist for the Employment Department, said that while many people focus on the discourage workers when discussing underemployment, they are a small piece of the puzzle.

"The biggest group that increases the percentage of the labor underutilization figures is the number of folks who are working part-time for economic reasons," he said. "There are a large number of folks who are employed, but they are working a part-time job and not receiving as many hours as they wish to be working."

Since 2009, the unemployment rate and the underemployment rate have both declined. The underemployment topped out at about 20.7 percent. However, the gap between the two rates has widened. In 2008, the difference was about 6 percent, but in 2013, it had grown to approximately 9 percent.

The Employment Department has reported job growth across most industries during the past year, with Crook County among the areas seeing the greatest gains. However, the numbers do not necessarily apply to full time positions as all jobs, regardless of hours, are counted.

Consequently, the number of part-time workers is growing at a greater rate than those who have lost work - a first for Oregon.

The phenomenon ultimately calls into question the nature of the economic recovery. While people are finding jobs and the unemployment rate is dropping, many people are still not finding as much work as they need.

"It seems that we have not seen a recovery with those unemployed folks," Runberg said.