The record for unemployment in Oregon was set back in 1982 — when a real estate bubble popped and the timber trade began to fade.
That record has now been broken. The 12.4 percent unemployment in May is three-tenths of a percent than the old record.
But when you dig into that figure, there are some encouraging signs. For example, the number of jobs in the state only dropped by about 100 in May —- that’s smallest loss for a while. Economists say it may even indicate that the economy is stabilizing.
It’s all a little confusing. Because on the one had we have record unemployment, but on the other it looks like jobs aren’t being lost anymore. State Economist, Art Ayre, says the figures are skewed because people keep moving to Oregon or coming out of retirement in search of work — and that all pushes the unemployment rate higher.
At the employment office in Tualitin, I found two people who had recently moved to Oregon, who illustrate the point. Here’s Brandon McDaniel.
Brandon McDaniel: “I recently moved here from Salt Lake City about a year ago and I had a temporary job, just seasonal work for a call center, that ended in March, that’s why I’ve been continually looking for work.”
Kristian Fodel-Vencill: “And what are you seeing?”
Brandon McDaniel: “I see some open jobs, but what I’m really seeing is not being contacted back for those positions.”
Kristian Fodel-Vencil: “So maybe a lot of competition for them.”
Brandon McDaniel: “Definitely”
Kristian Foden-Vencil: “Why did you move here?”Brandon McDaniel: “A beautiful place to live; a change of pace.”
With people moving here and locals being laid off, state employment officials say there are about 240,000 Oregonians out of work right now — more than twice as many as there were at this time last year.
But remember— not many people lost jobs in May.
State economist Art Ayre: “It’s good news that we didn’t lose very many jobs in May, seasonally adjusted. That we had almost the normal seasonal gain in employment in May. I would say that’s good news. The fact that the employment rate went up point-6 of a percent is not good news. But it is less of an increase in the unemployment rate that we’ve become used to over the past half-year or so.”
Ayre says he doesn’t know how high the unemployment rate might climb. But he says, it’s not rising as quickly as it was a few months ago.
Art Ayre: “The Oregon economy will continue to lose jobs — but at a slower pace — throughout the rest of this year and into the first quarter of next year.”
Meanwhile, the state is paying out about $55 million dollars a week for benefits. That compares to about $13 million dollars a week this time last year. But Employment Department spokesman, Tom Fuller, says the state is well prepared.
Tom Fuller: “Good news is the unemployment insurance trust fund is in really good shape. It stands at about $1.5 billion and is still expected to be able to withstand unemployment payments made through this session.”
There are various unemployment benefits available in Oregon. Combined, they last 79 weeks. Fuller says there’s only one person in the whole state who’s exhausted all those benefits.
There are about 11-thousand others who are likely to exhaust them by the fall, but the legislature is considering a further extension of benefits.
Meanwhile, Oregon’s unemployment rate is a full 3 percent higher than the national average. The state has also had the second highest unemployment rate in the country — right behind Michigan. But on Friday, the federal government will release the latest state-by-state unemployment figures, so where Oregon fits into the unemployment picture nationwide might change.