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Economy added 4,200 jobs, down from 8,700 in June, but state closes in on full recovery from onset of pandemic.

Oregon's economy added 4,200 jobs in July, less than the 8,700 recorded in the previous month, but the statewide unemployment rate remained at a near-record low 3.5%. That matches the national average.

Evan as the nation reached full recovery of the 22 million jobs lost in the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, the Oregon Employment Department reported that the state's overall mark remained at 94%. For the private sector, that figure is 99%, but for government — which includes public schools, community colleges and state universities — the mark is just 49%.

"Several sectors of Oregon's economy have already achieved a full jobs recovery, and now have more jobs than they did in February 2020," Gail Krumenauer, department economist, told reporters during an online briefing the same day the figures were released on Wednesday, Aug. 17.

But she also said a couple of key sectors have not fully recovered. One was local government, including public schools, that had 14,000 fewer jobs in July than in February 2020.

The other, she said, is leisure and hospitality — bars, restaurants, lodging, entertainment — also 14,000 jobs down from its peak. Krumenauer said this sector, however, has grown at three times the overall statewide rate of job growth in the past 12 months — and has added the most jobs in the past 12 months.

Leisure and hospitality led July growth with 1,500 jobs, followed by other services (salons and auto repairs) at 1,400, and manufacturing and private education, each at 1,300 jobs. In contrast, retail trade shed 700 jobs.

The professional and technical services sector was one of the fastest growing industries over the past two years. It has grown by 10,400 jobs since February 2020. Over the past 12 months, architectural and engineering services added 1,700 jobs, or 9.4%, which was the highest growth rate of the component industries within professional and technical services.

Retail trade has inched downward since late last year. In July, it dropped to 209,000 jobs, which is back to where it was in late 2016. Over the past 12 months, the weakest retail trade sectors were building material and garden supply stores, 1,700 jobs lost, and general merchandise stores, 2,400 jobs lost.

The Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, which prepares the quarterly economic and revenue forecast for state government, has projected a full jobs recovery for Oregon by the end of this year. Its next forecast is scheduled for release Aug. 31. If that projection holds, it would represent one of the fastest economic recoveries in recent years, compared with the seven years it took for recoveries in the 1980s and the 2010s.

Oregon's 3.5% unemployment rate has been essentially unchanged in the past few months.

Since 1976, when current recordkeeping began, Krumenauer said that rate has been 4.5% or less only a couple of other times. It was that low for a couple of months in the mid-1990s, and at 3.4% from November 2019 through February 2020. The April 2020 rate was a record high 13.2%, but has dropped steadily since the onset of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Oregon employers still report an average of two job openings for every unemployed person.

"Oregon is in a tight labor market where employers are having difficulty finding enough workers to fill all the job openings," Krumenauer said.

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