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Nearly 93,000 Oregonians Filed New Unemployment Claims Last Week

Double Mountain Brewery owner and brewmaster Matt Swihart sits for a portrait in his office on March 3, 2020, in Hood River, Ore.
Bradley W. Parks
Double Mountain Brewery owner and brewmaster Matt Swihart sits for a portrait in his office on March 3, 2020, in Hood River, Ore.

UPDATE (4:30 p.m. PT) – Tens of thousands of Oregonians and Washingtonians filed new unemployment claims last week as the economic collapse wreaked by the coronavirus pandemic accelerated.

In Oregon, a record 92,700 people filed initial claims for unemployment insurance benefits during the week of March 22, according to the state employment department. That dwarfs the nearly 5,000 initial claims filed just two weeks before.

“It’s definitely the worst we’ve seen,” said Bob Whelan, senior economist at ECONorthwest. He expects Oregon’s previous record-low unemployment rate to rise to 15% or even 20% in next month’s report.

Jobless claims rose in Southwest Washington, too. In seven counties, 13,500 people filed initial unemployment claims. Most of the claims came from Clark County.

Across the country, a staggering 10 million Americans lost their jobs in March and applied for government help, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Nationally, more than 6.6 million people applied for unemployment benefits last week, obliterating the record set just the week before. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. weekly record was 695,000 new claims in 1982.

In Oregon, the economic toll is so grim that the state has started sending batch notifications of large layoffs. A sample from the days around March 22:

Next Adventure: at least 114 people laid off in Portland, Warren and Sandy

Blazer Industries: at least 117 people laid off in Aumsville

Beaverton Toyota: at least 78 people laid off in Beaverton

Deschutes Brewery: at least 337 people laid off in Bend, Portland and Roanoke, Virginia

ORM Fertility: at least 65 people laid off in Portland

Valley River Inn: at least 115 people laid off in Eugene

Behind each layoff: a person, a livelihood and perhaps a family.

Many of these layoffs are described as temporary. But with no real sense of when normalcy will return (or what the new normal will be), it's uncertain how long the layoffs will last or how many jobs will be restored.

Economist Bob Whelan said Oregon job losses may be reaching their peak.

“I hope so,” he said. “But it doesn’t matter cause it’s cumulative. Because in this situation, there aren’t many new job openings. People aren’t hiring, because this affects such a broad spectrum of the economy.”

Matt Swihart laid off about 90 people from Double Mountain Brewery’s operations in Hood River and Portland. The brewmaster said he always tried to plan for hard times, but the reach of the coronavirus floored him.

“I could never have foreseen a pandemic shutting down every restaurant in the United States. It’s hard to fathom,” he said. “And it’s harder to fathom, really, the impact it has to my wage workers that are now without an income.”

He told many of his employees that they would have jobs to return to when people start eating and drinking out again. In fact, he’s hoping to rehire sooner rather than later. Starting Friday, small businesses should be able to apply for $349 billion worth of forgivable loans backed by the federal government through its coronavirus stimulus package.

The idea is to keep workers employed in the short term.

“We’re looking to try to maximize those resources and, honestly, just bring as many people back on payroll as we can,” Swihart said.

Meanwhile, laid-off workers continued to report frustration processing their unemployment claims. The Oregon Employment Department said it had doubled the number of staff taking claims and was trying to triple it.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Kate Davidson
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