Oregon’s unemployment rate fell to 5.2% in July, from 5.6% in June.

That puts the state’s jobless rate slightly below the national rate of 5.4%, but still above the record low unemployment rates Oregon experienced prior to the pandemic.

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For many businesses, July was the first month without state-mandated COVID-19 restrictions since the pandemic hit. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown lifted those health and safety restrictions on June 30. (She reimposed a statewide indoor mask mandate last week, as cases tied to the delta variant threatened to overwhelm hospitals.)

The Oregon Employment Department said the state’s jobless rate began dropping more quickly in June and July, after decreasing by only 0.1 percentage point for five months in a row.

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Nonfarm payroll employment grew by 20,000 jobs in July, surpassing the average gains for the prior six months. The largest job growth was in government — primarily local government, including schools — and in leisure and hospitality.

“The big 20,000 monthly job gains is huge,” wrote Josh Lehner of the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis in a blog post on Tuesday. “It means Oregon has recovered 70% of its initial pandemic job losses.”

While workplaces such as restaurants, gyms and hotels added more than 7,000 jobs in July, the leisure and hospitality sector was still down almost 45,000 jobs from Feb. 2020.

Oregon employers have reported record numbers of job vacancies, according to the Employment Department, and businesses are struggling to fill them. But the pandemic continues to throw obstacles in some workers’ paths.

The Employment Department said that, from April to June, more than 32,000 Oregonians were prevented from looking for work because of issues related to the pandemic, including child care problems. That figure includes households where all adults worked prior to the pandemic. For them, the child care barrier may remain until schools fully re-open.

Meanwhile, the option to telework has declined nationwide, according to the agency. In May 2020 about one-third of workers across the country could telework because of the pandemic. Last month, only 13% could.

August’s jobs report should show the delta variant’s effect on employment in the state. That report is due out Sept. 14 — shortly after federal pandemic benefits expire for tens of thousands of Oregonians.

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