Local jobs are still lagging behind, the Oregon Employment Department says.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Oregon Employment Department data shows unemployment rates are continuing to drop statewide.Columbia County's unemployment rate continues to hover above the statewide and national averages.

In April, the county's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 4.4%. Oregon's rate was 3.6% and the national rate was 3.7%.

When the pandemic hit, Columbia County lost 1,360 jobs. As of April 2022, the county still had 200 fewer jobs than in April 2019.

Despite fewer local jobs, the county's unemployment rate has nearly returned to pre-pandemic rates. In the first three months of 2020, before pandemic job losses took effect, Columbia County had 4.3% unemployment.

Last fall, the number of employed Columbia County residents surpassed 24,000 for the first time since at least 1990 and likely ever.

But with fewer jobs in the county than before the pandemic, more residents are commuting outside the county or are self-employed.

Roughly 76.8% of working Columbia County residents commuted outside the county in 2019, according to the Census Bureau. The increase in the number of employed residents, even with local jobs still reduced, suggests that percentage may have increased.

There are people who live outside Columbia County and commute in, but that group — 3,775 in 2019 — is far smaller than the 15,644 local residents who work outside the county.

Local labor force data from the Oregon Employment Department doesn't distinguish people who are self-employed, but Erik Knoder, a regional economist with the department, said Oregon overall has seen a large increase in self-employment.

"Columbia County still has somewhat fewer payroll jobs than before the pandemic, but seems to have more residents employed and probably more residents who are self-employed," Knoder said.

In April 2019, there were 1,102 unemployed Columbia County residents. This April, there were 1,112 — only 10 more than three years prior.

Columbia County's labor force and overall population has grown in the past few years. That growth is thanks to new residents moving into the county; deaths outnumbered births for a net natural population decrease of 76 in the 12-month period ending June 2021, according to the state employment department.

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