Oregon’s unemployment rate continues to stay low, according to new data released on Wednesday by the Oregon Employment Department.
The state’s unemployment rate held steady in July at 3.5%, the same rate it was at in June. That mirrors the nation’s unemployment rate. Both Oregon and U.S. employment rates have stayed near that level over the past five months, near record lows, according to OED.
In July, Oregon saw the most nonfarm job growth in sectors like leisure and hospitality, manufacturing, and private educational services. Retail trade was the only industry that saw substantial job losses last month; the sector lost 700 jobs.
As of last month, Oregon has regained 94% of the jobs it lost at the beginning of the pandemic, but not all sectors have grown equally. According to the employment department, Oregon’s private sector has regained 99% of its pandemic-caused losses, but the government sector has only regained 49%.
Officials say that within government, local schools have taken a hit.
“About half of the jobs in local government are in education, so that is a significant piece of what’s going on in the local government sector and the gap between where employment was in February 2020 and where it is now,” State Employment Economist Gail Krumenauer said at a press conference on Wednesday.
According to OED’s most recent data, there were about 11,000 fewer jobs in local education this July compared to July of last year — about a 10% drop.
Oregon schools have struggled to fill a wide range of positions, from teachers to support staff, and employment economists say it’s not clear from their data which specific job types have been most affected.
“What we have is the same kind of anecdotal information that everyone else does — things that we hear from employers as we speak to them,” Krumenauer said. “We’ve seen that there has been difficulty… getting several positions, but that bus drivers was certainly a shortage and instructional assistants was difficult as well.”
The most recent jobs analysis showing a decline in the government sector, and particularly education, comes as schools prepare for students to return in just a few weeks.
Even though the unemployment rate is low and many of Oregon’s sectors have made recoveries since the start of the pandemic, many employers are still struggling to find workers.
“Now unemployment is as low as it was in 2019, but now employers are trying to fill about twice as many job openings as they were then,” Krumenauer said. “So that means Oregon is still in a really tight labor market.”
OED makes progress on new system
According to OED Acting Director David Gerstenfeld, the employment department is on track to go live with the first phase of its new computer system, Frances Online.
An audit last month highlighted a series of problems in OED’s unemployment insurance system, which had delayed payments to thousands of workers who had lost jobs during the start of the pandemic.
Frances Online is part of OED’s “modernization” process to fix those problems.
“The process to get Frances Online up and running has been a complex, multi-year effort, and it will make the employment department’s business processes and core technology systems more flexible, more adaptable and more efficient,” Gerstenfeld said on Wednesday.
Gerstenfeld says Frances Online will go live on Sept. 6. When that happens, employers will be able to do things such as file payroll reports and find their tax rates in the new system.
The new system will also eventually support Oregon’s new Paid Family and Medical Leave Program.