Unemployment decreases significantly, but gains could be offset by wildfires and air quality issues in September

As if a pandemic wasn't enough, wildfires struck Oregon in September and will likely result in a downturn in employment when those figures are released next month. But the number of people employed in the state in August increased, a hopeful sign to be sure.

According to a release from the Oregon Employment Department, the unemployment rate dropped to 7.7% in August from 10.4% in July. Although August's rate was more than double reported in August 2019, it signaled some improvement in the job market as businesses continued to adapt to the pandemic.

The federal rate also dropped, dipping from 10.2% in July to 8.4% in August.

August saw the state's non-farm employment rise by 11,300 jobs, following a revised gain of 17,700 jobs in July. Over the past four months, according to the OED, employers added back 41% of the jobs lost at the onset of the pandemic in March and April.

The largest gains in August were in the leisure and hospitality fields (plus-4,200 jobs), retail trade (plus-3,300 jobs), construction (plus-3,200) and government (plus-3,000 jobs). The wholesale trade (minus-1,400 jobs) and health care and social assistance sectors (minus-1,400 jobs) suffered the most loss jobs in August, the OED reported.

A relaxing of some pandemic safety measures and residents' desire to return to some type of normalcy has caused the leisure and hospitality sectors to experience the greatest gains in jobs over the past four months. That sector — which includes, restaurants, drinking establishments, hotels and recreational industries — added back 63,200 jobs since the beginning of May. However, the sector has still only clawed back about half of the jobs loss since the beginning of the pandemic.

"Retail has bounced back closer to its recent peak employment level," the release said. "It added 16,100 jobs over the past four months, which was nearly three-quarters of the jobs lost earlier in the year."

The health care and social assistance sector has added more than 18,000 jobs in the past four months, more than half those lost since the pandemic began and despite a 1,400-job hit in August.

Still, manufacturing, government, information, and professional and business services continue to report their lowest employment for the year.

The OED expects to release the next batch of employment data in mid-October. That release should indicate the jobs lost or furloughed due to wildfires and the resulting air quality issues that required many workers to remain home for health reasons.

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