Oregon’s unemployment rate barely budged in February, falling to 6.1% from 6.2% in January.

However, new data from the Oregon Employment Department shows several bright spots. Among them — more women have returned to the labor force and many of the state’s worst hit businesses added jobs as coronavirus restrictions eased.

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Hiring picked up steam among the restaurants, hotels, gyms and entertainment venues that make up the state’s leisure and hospitality sector. Those businesses added 11,100 jobs in February, accounting for the vast majority of the 13,900 nonfarm payroll jobs Oregon gained last month.

The rebound is far from complete, however. The sector is still down tens of thousands of jobs from its pre-pandemic days.

But the growth reflects February’s loosening of coronavirus restrictions around the state. As the risk of contracting COVID-19 lessened last month, the state removed the “extreme risk” designations for 20 counties. That allowed restaurants and bars to resume indoor dining around Portland and Bend, while long-shuttered theaters and fitness centers got the greenlight to reopen their doors.

Despite the pandemic — or perhaps because of it — the Employment Department reported that two sectors of the state’s economy reached record high employment last month: transportation, warehousing and utilities; and professional and technical services.

At 1,819,100 jobs, Oregon’s total nonfarm payroll employment is still down 7.8% from its pre-recession peak in February 2020.

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There’s another bright spot, though.

Preliminary estimates show the unemployment rate was lower for women last month than it was for men.

“The unemployment rate for women in Oregon was 5.6% in February, compared with 6.6% for men,” said Employment Department economist Gail Krumenauer.

Oregon’s unemployment rate is still higher than it was before the pandemic. Meanwhile, the state’s labor force — comprised of people who are employed or seeking work — has been on a rollercoaster ride, its numbers plunging and rising through several stages of the pandemic.

Now, the state’s labor force is at a record high level, Krumenauer said.

And that growth appears to extend to women as well.

Earlier in the pandemic, women in Oregon were dropping out of the labor force in a worrying trend that was reflected nationally. The number of women in Oregon’s labor force declined each month from March to September, Krumenauer said, but has started growing again since then.

She cautioned that the data is limited. But February’s preliminary estimates show the labor force of Oregon women is now bigger than it was before the pandemic as well.

That means more women are finding jobs - or are able to look for them once again.

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