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Oregon unemployment rate drops to pre-pandemic levels

Oregon’s unemployment rate is below 6% for the first time since March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic shredded the economy and caused jobless rates across the country to skyrocket.

The 5.9% unemployment rate for May is the same as the just-revised rate for April, according to figures released Tuesday by the Oregon Employment Department.

State economists also saw a slight slowdown in hiring last month. The addition of 6,900 nonfarm payroll jobs follows four months of hiring where gains averaged 11,400 jobs per month.

Employment department officials note that the state has added jobs at a dizzying pace over the last several months.

“[T]here’s been a tremendous amount of hiring happening across Oregon in 2021,” said OED employment economist Gail Krumenauer in an email to OPB, pointing out that the 52,500 jobs added in the last five months would’ve taken 20 months before the pandemic.

The gains are even more remarkable in one of Oregon’s hardest-hit sectors.

“Leisure and hospitality has packed as much hiring into five months as it did over the course of five years (58 months) leading up to the pandemic,” Krumenauer said in her email.

By far the largest job increases in May were in the private-education sector, which added around 3,400 jobs in seasonally-adjusted numbers. Professional and business services also added a significant number of jobs last month, with 2,900 more positions, according to the employment department. “Transportation, warehousing and utilities” was the only major industry category that employment department officials noted lost jobs, with a decline of around 800 positions.

Overall, state employment levels are still well below where they were in February 2020, before pandemic restrictions struck. The Oregon Employment Department said the state has 109,000 fewer jobs — a difference of about 5.5% compared to 14 months ago.

That glass half-empty applies also to the leisure and hospitality sector, where hiring at restaurants and hotels is still a struggle.

“[I]t’s disappointing to see no net gain in leisure and hospitality jobs in May,” Krumenauer told OPB. “Within the leisure and hospitality sector, accommodation and food services (restaurants, drinking places, hotels) has been relatively flat for a few months.”

Oregon’s numbers are roughly tracking with the U.S. unemployment rate overall. The national rate fell to 5.8% in May, down from 6.1% in April.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting