Oregon jobs data shows women leaving the workforce, slower recovery

By Kate Davidson (OPB)
Oct. 14, 2020 8:39 p.m. Updated: Oct. 15, 2020 1:59 p.m.

Both Oregon and Washington reported roughly 8% unemployment in September, an improvement that obscures more worrying signs

The jobless rates in Oregon and Washington remained on par with the national unemployment rate of 7.9% last month.

Oregon’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 8.0% in September, from a revised 8.5% in August.

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The preliminary jobless rate in Washington fell to 7.8%, from a revised 8.4% in August.

Oregon’s unemployment rate has improved dramatically from its early-pandemic high of 14.9% in April. But across the country, improving unemployment rates can mask worrying signs: job recovery has slowed, more people are reporting permanent layoffs and women are disproportionately leaving the workforce.

There’s evidence of all three trends in Oregon.

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The Oregon Employment Department reported non-farm payroll employment increased by 5,100 jobs in September. That’s a far cry from May and June, when more than 83,000 jobs came back.

“It really is starting to slow down quite a bit,” said former state economist Tom Potiowsky, noting Oregon has only regained 45% of the jobs lost in March and April. Any job growth is good, he added, but “slowing down is not a good sign.”

The jobs that could come back relatively quickly did. Now more Oregonians are reporting that their layoffs have become permanent, according to Oregon Employment Department economist Gail Krumenauer.

In addition, women are leaving the labor force in significantly higher numbers than men, both in Oregon and around the country. Many are struggling with the pressure to care for and educate home-bound kids. At the same time, the pandemic has highlighted preexisting gender wage gaps within some families.

Roughly 37,000 women have left Oregon’s workforce since February, Krumenauer said. She qualified the figure as “choppy” because of the size of the state’s survey.

When people stop actively seeking work, their numbers are no longer captured in the state jobless rate.

Despite its extraordinary cause, economist Potiowsky thinks the COVID-19 recession is beginning to resemble recessions of the past. The quick jump back, where possible, has turned into the steady slog.

“It’s going to be more slow going, I think, in the next months,” he said. “It’s probably not going to be until 2022-2023 before we get back to employment levels that happened before the recession hit.”

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