Oregon economic report finds pandemic job losses hit women, people of color hardest

By Rob Manning (OPB)
July 7, 2021 10:22 p.m.

A new report concludes that people of color, low-wage earners and women were more likely to suffer job losses as the pandemic forced businesses to limit operations.

The Oregon Employment Department's Unemployment Insurance online claim system, pictured on Friday, April 17, 2020.

The Oregon Employment Department's Unemployment Insurance online claim system, pictured on Friday, April 17, 2020.

Bryan M. Vance / OPB

The pandemic eliminated one in seven jobs in Oregon — a devastating blow over the course of two months that hobbled an otherwise healthy economy.


Multiple sectors, from hospitality to retail to private education services, were hit particularly hard, resulting in uneven job losses and disproportionate impact on people of color, low-wage earners and women.

Those are the conclusions of a new report from the Oregon Employment Department, “Disparate Impacts of the Pandemic Recession in Oregon.” While the findings are no surprise to anyone who has followed economic news about the pandemic, the report offers more detail into this unprecedented economic upheaval than the state had done to date.

The report begins with a fact that’s sometimes lost amid the national economic nosedive that began in March 2020: the winter of 2019-20 was one of Oregon’s strongest economic periods on record. The number of unemployed people — 77,900 — was at an all-time low since 1978. The 3.8% unemployment rate was Oregon’s lowest ever recorded.

So when the pandemic hit, the state’s economy crashed at “breathtaking speed,” according to the new report. The state lost 285,500 nonfarm payroll jobs, a 14.5% nosedive, as the unemployment rate skyrocketed by “nearly 10 percentage points to a record-high 13.2%.”

Nearly half of those job losses fell in three large sectors: leisure and hospitality, private education services and the broad “other services” category, which includes everything from automotive repair to beauty salons.

Some of those jobs have been recovered by now in Oregon, particularly in “other services,” as the economy has come back to life. But leisure and hospitality and private education services sectors have regained only about half of their lost jobs. Other areas, including local government, have seen job losses continue in recent months.

According to the agency, younger workers age 16 to 24 were more likely than other age groups to seek unemployment benefits during the pandemic.

Disproportionate impacts


Job losses landed heaviest on low-wage workers because of the pandemic’s impact on certain sectors.

“Leisure and hospitality was most notable, with about one-fifth (18.2%) of all jobs at minimum wage, and roughly four out of five jobs (78%) paying below-median wage,” the report said. The report also found that the two other hard-hit service categories had “larger shares of minimum wage jobs” than other sectors.

The report also found that women were disproportionately affected by job losses, because they are more likely to hold jobs in leisure and hospitality, education and other services than men.

Losses in the leisure and hospitality industries hit Latino workers particularly hard.

White people comprise 85% of Oregon’s workforce but constituted just 81% of leisure and hospitality workers. Conversely, the report noted that “although Hispanic or Latino workers accounted for 12% of workers across all sectors, they totaled 17% of the leisure and hospitality workforce.” That exposed them to disproportionate job losses, when restaurants and hotels shed jobs due to COVID-19 restrictions.

However, Latino workers were less likely to apply for regular unemployment benefits, according to the Employment Department’s report. That’s a change from pre-pandemic patterns, the agency said, while noting it lacks reliable race and ethnicity data from unemployment claims.

“Access barriers to unemployment benefits may have ... affected this or any other demographic with potentially greater shares of workers speaking a language other than English,” the report’s authors wrote.

The Employment Department went months without having effective application procedures in languages other than English.

The new report also found Hispanic or Latino workers were underrepresented in applications for the federal program that assisted contract workers and the self-employed, called pandemic unemployment assistance, or PUA.

“This was a bit surprising, as Hispanic or Latino business owners are more highly concentrated in leisure and hospitality,” the report said. But, it went on to acknowledge, “the same access issues covered earlier for regular unemployment benefits may also be a factor in PUA claims too.”

The report concludes that the same people who have struggled economically in the past are showing up again in terms of lost jobs, and in the case of Latino workers, less government support. The report argues that the disparate impact is going to affect Oregon’s recovery.

“Some of the workers who were hit hardest by the pandemic recession are among the same demographic groups who took the longest to experience the benefits of the last economic expansion,” the report said. “As Oregon’s economy moves toward fully reopening, the workers disparately impacted due to pandemic-related job losses may also be more likely to need the assistance getting back to — and feeling safe on — the job.”