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Employment Department report finds implications for Oregon economic recovery now under way.

PMG FILE PHOTO - A new state economic report found that low-wage workers, especially those who were employed by restaurants, hotels and bars, were hardest hit by the pandemic recession.Though Oregon shed a record number of jobs last year during the first two months of the coronavirus pandemic, the people most affected were women, racial and ethnic minorities and the youngest workers — particularly if they were in lower-wage sectors such as restaurants, bars and hotels.

That conclusion, drawn from Oregon Employment Department's July 7 Disparate Impacts of the Pandemic Recession in Oregon report, will have implications for how Oregon recovers from the downturn resulting from business shutdowns and curtailments during the pandemic.

"The impacts were not evenly distributed, with in-person, service-based sectors experiencing significantly higher rates of job loss," according to the report.

The report was written by a team from the agency and paid for through a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, which oversees how all states administer unemployment benefits.

The report comes as the Employment Department — having paid $10.1 billion in state and federal benefits since the start of the pandemic 16 months ago — shifts its efforts to getting people back to work. Many federal benefit programs are scheduled to end Sept. 4.

David GerstenfeldActing Director David Gerstenfeld said the agency is reinstating federal requirements for recipients of unemployment benefits to be able to work, be available for work and actively seeking work. Those who fail to take the first step to register with the iMatchSkills system will lose benefits.

Through its network of WorkSource offices, Gerstenfeld said staff members are ready to help people seek jobs in their current fields or in new fields, and advise them how to prepare for jobs in other fields. "We try to offer a lot of those services ourselves, and the partners we work with at WorkSource offices have programs of their own," he said.

Gail Krumenauer, an agency economist and one of the authors of the report, said competition for workers makes it a job-seeker's market — especially for workers who want to increase their skills for better-paying jobs.

"We expect to see that intense competition continues as the economy recovers," she told reporters before the report was released.

Oregon added 57,800 jobs in the first half of this year. It took 22 months pre-pandemic for the state to add that total. But businesses reported 97,800 job vacancies in the spring, a high mark since the agency started compiling that information in 2013.

Some were hit harder

Slightly under two-thirds of the 285,500 nonfarm jobs lost between February and April 2020 — equal to 14.5% of Oregon's 2019 workforce, about one in seven jobs — have come back. Oregon's statewide unemployment rate spiked from a record low of 3.5% in March 2020 to a record adjusted high of 13.2% the following month. It has declined gradually since then; as of June, the latest available, it was 5.6%.

About half of those lost jobs during the first months of the pandemic were in three categories — leisure and hospitality, other services and private education — that employed larger shares of women, racial and ethnic minorities and workers 24 or younger. Leisure and hospitality lost more than half (110,900) of its total, other services more than 25%, and private education more than 20%.

Women constituted slightly less than half (47%) of the workforce and half (49%) of total jobs. But they accounted for 54% of leisure and hospitality jobs, 55% in other services and two-thirds of private and public education jobs.

Racial and ethnic minorities also are overrepresented in leisure and hospitality jobs. People of color accounted for 18%, compared with 81% for whites. Hispanics (who can be of any race) accounted for 17%, greater than their 12% share of the overall workforce.

Gail KrumenauerKrumenauer said the recovery in leisure and hospitality jobs in the first five months of 2021 equaled their growth over the past five years, before the pandemic. The sector added 1,000 jobs in June, but other services outpaced it with 1,700 jobs.

Jobs in those categories tend to pay either the three-tiered state minimum wage or less than Oregon's median wage — half the workers earning more and half earning less — of $20.37 per hour. For leisure and hospitality, 78% of those jobs paid less than the median wage. For other services, it was 61%, and for private education, 44%. (For retail trade, it was 74%.)

The agency reported on July 14 there were 19,900 vacancies in leisure and hospitality and 7,000 in other services.

As for regular state unemployment claims during the pandemic, the share filed by women rose from a pre-pandemic 41% to 51%, slightly more than their share of Oregon's workforce. For younger workers between ages 16 and 24, their share rose from a pre-pandemic 9% to 14%, in line with their share of the workforce.

The same held true for claims filed for federal benefits for self-employed and gig workers, a new program known as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. Women accounted for 52% of the claims, compared to 47% of the workforce; Blacks, 3.6% of the claims, compared to 1.9% of the workforce.

Younger workers accounted for only 7% of those claims, compared to 14% of the workforce. They may have gig work, but are less likely to be self-employed.

Language barrier

However, claims for regular and federal unemployment benefits by Hispanic workers were in line with their 12% share of the workforce — or even less — despite their being overrepresented in leisure and hospitality jobs.

The report says:

"It's possible that workers of Hispanic or Latino origin were less likely to be laid off during the pandemic. Access barriers to unemployment benefits may have also affected this or any other demographic with potentially greater shares of workers speaking a language other than English."

Before the onset of the pandemic and recession, the online claims form of the Oregon Employment Department was only in English. The agency set up a new website, unemployment,oregon.gov, which now offers the form in 15 languages. But the initial lack of other languages on the website forced people to call the agency — 20 million calls in April 2020 — and overwhelmed the system and the staff.

In 2019, before the pandemic, 35% of other workers (two or more races), 31.1% of Hispanic workers and 27.7% of Asian workers had limited proficiency in English.

The report also notes that before the pandemic, 68% of unemployment claims had no information about race attached. Even with the new form, claimants can choose to leave the relevant information blank, so 36% of pandemic-era claims lack any racial information.

The form does ask whether a claimant is "Hispanic or Latino" or "not Hispanic or Latino."

Not the end

Economists at the Employment Department and the Office of Economic Analysis project a full recovery by early 2023. That timeline would result in a relatively rapid recovery, unlike the seven years it took Oregon to emerge from downturns in the 1980s and 2010s.

Still, the report says, those who took the longest to emerge from the Great Recession — groups that saw unemployment rates as high as 20% — are going to need help.

It concludes:

"Some of the hardest-hit workers by the pandemic recession are among the same demographic groups — particularly Black, Native American and younger workers — who took the longest to experience the labor market benefits of the last expansion. Throughout recessions and economic recoveries, unemployment rates also remain consistently higher for workers with less educational attainment.

"The workers disparately impacted due to pandemic-related job losses may also be more likely to need assistance getting back on the job."

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