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Most return to payroll jobs, especially older workers. A third dropped out and pursued self-employment or gig work.

A new report by the Oregon Employment Department describes what has changed — and why — during the two years the coronavirus pandemic resulted in record high and near-record low unemployment rates in Oregon.

The report was prepared by agency staff and funded by the U.S. Department of Labor as Oregon neared a full recovery of jobs lost during the onset of the pandemic. About one of every five Oregon workers (418,300) filed unemployment claims starting in April 2020, when the statewide rate shot up from a record low of 3.4% to a record high of 13.3%. The July rate was 3.5%. (Modern records go back to 1976.)

The Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, which prepares the state's official economic and revenue forecasts, has projected a full recovery of jobs in Oregon by the end of this year.

The Employment Department prepared a similar report in mid-2021 on the effects of the pandemic, particularly on which workers were hit hardest. Women, for example, made up 47% of the pre-pandemic workforce but accounted for 53% of claims filed.

The latest report concluded that:

• Seven in 10 claimants were working again for employers subject to state unemployment payroll taxes, but three in 10 were not.

• Of those workers in the first category, 36% returned to work for the same employer, notably in education services, manufacturing and public administration. Another 12% worked for a different employer, but in the same business sector. The rest (23%) worked in a different business sector. All these statistics are based on payroll records.

• For the other category of workers, there are no numbers yet. But some left Oregon, left the workforce or simply retired. Others chose to become self-employed or pursue gig work.

Oregon self-employed workers accounted for 7.3% of the total workforce in April of this year, compared with 4.5% in April 2020 and 6.8% in April 2019. National averages were 5.5% in April 2022, 4.8% in April 2020, and 5.3% in April 2019. The number of Oregon workers reporting at least $1,000 in income from other work was 308,400 in 2019, up by 50,500 during the past decade. (For the first time since the national unemployment benefits system started in 1938, Congress approved benefits for self-employed and gig workers as part of the 2020 CARES Act. Most of those benefits ended on Labor Day 2021.)

• Oregon already had a large share of people ages 16 and up working remotely: 9.4% between 2016 and 2022, behind only Colorado at 10.8% and Washington, D.C. at 12.3%. For some occupations, job losses were minimal or nonexistent because the jobs could be done at home.

• Re-employment patterns did vary significantly by age group: "Older pandemic recession unemployment claimants were more likely to return to and stay with their pre-recession employer. Meanwhile, claimants under 25 years old were more likely to switch employers, and more likely take jobs in a different broad sector of the economy."

Faster recovery

The report says Oregon regained 123,500 jobs during the balance of 2020, after peak unemployment in April, and 98,500 more jobs during 2021. Though the report is based on data as of April of this year, the Employment Department has said since then that Oregon has regained nearly all the jobs lost during the pandemic. However, private employment has regained 99%, but the public sector only 49%.

In contrast, the latest report said that it took almost six years from the onset of the Great Recession in December 2007 (69 months) for Oregon to regain 248,000 jobs.

Among those business sectors that fared better than others during the pandemic downturn were construction; real estate and rental and leasing services; information services; professional and technical services; wholesale trade and transportation, warehousing and utilities.

"The sectors leading recovery have homes and residences as a common thread: greater likelihood to be working from them, building them, or making deliveries to them," the report said. "In addition to all this, economic recovery from the pandemic recession has also been marked by strong demand and rapidly rising prices for homes themselves."

Slower sectors

According to the report, the business sector hit hardest was leisure and hospitality, which covers restaurants, bars, lodging and entertainment.

"Leisure and hospitality lost 112,100 jobs in spring 2020, more than half (52%) of the sector's total employment," the report said. "Oregon's hotels, restaurants, bars and entertainment places added back 92,300 jobs by April 2022, and regained 82% of recession job losses. Yet leisure and hospitality remained 19,800 jobs below its pre-recession employment level. That was the largest job recovery deficit of any sector."

Subsequent reports by the agency say that the leisure and hospitality sector has led in job gains so far for 2022.

Other job sectors hit hard during the pandemic through April 2022 were local government — about half of which consists of public schools, community colleges and state universities — private education and private health and social services.

"One part of that could be timing," the report said. "Most schools were shuttered — either partially or fully — from at least spring 2020 through late summer 2021. That effectively made education the last sector to fully re-open in Oregon."

As for private health and social services, the report said jobs have returned in doctor and specialist offices and private social services. But it also said jobs were down in hospitals, nursing homes and other residential care settings.

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