Oregon’s unemployment rate rises for 1st time since April

By Kate Davidson (OPB)
Jan. 20, 2021 11:50 p.m. Updated: Jan. 21, 2021 2:58 a.m.

Restaurants laid off thousands of people. Months of overall job gains came to a stop as the state’s unemployment rate grew to 6.4% in December

Oregon’s unemployment rate rose last month for the first time since a flood of pandemic layoffs pushed it to a record high in April 2020.

The state’s December jobless rate increased to 6.4%, up from 6.0% in November.


Washington’s unemployment rate jumped even more, to 7.1% in December from a revised 5.7% the prior month. The national unemployment rate remained at 6.7%.

In Oregon, months of job gains ground to a halt in December, when the state lost a net 25,500 nonfarm payroll jobs.

“A loss of 25,500 jobs over the month is … substantial,” said Oregon Employment Department economist Gail Krumenauer.

The pattern of job loss was wearily familiar.


Leisure and hospitality businesses got hammered again, cutting about 28,600 jobs – most of them in full-service restaurants. Those restaurants have endured intermittent closures largely due to severe COVID-19 restrictions. Restaurants offering outdoor dining have struggled in the face of winter weather, while indoor dining is currently prohibited in most of Oregon.

“There’s a start-up-again, close-down-again reality facing so many hospitality businesses based on whatever their county risk category is for two-week periods of time,” said Jason Brandt, head of the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association.

The cost of that reality, he said, is driving many people away.

It took Oregon seven months to regain roughly half the leisure and hospitality jobs it lost when the pandemic hit in March and April, according to Krumenauer. She said December’s job losses wiped out half those gains.

“Oregon closed out 2020 having only regained one out of every four jobs that were lost in leisure and hospitality,” Krumenauer said.

Many economists feared the winter would be precarious, with damage to lives and livelihoods increasing before vaccines become widely available.

“It’s hard to watch that kind of pause in a recovery,” Krumenauer said.

Meanwhile, some industries added a couple of thousand jobs each in December. They include retail trade; transportation, warehousing and utilities; and health care and social assistance.


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