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Oregon’s jobless rate continues to improve

Oregon’s unemployment rate dropped below 5% last month for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic devastated the state and national economy, and put thousands of Oregonians out of work. The August state jobs report shows Oregon’s unemployment rate at 4.9%, down from 5.2% July.

It’s the latest positive economic milestone after months of steady improvement since Oregon’s unemployment rate hit a high of over 13% in April 2020.

While the economy continued to add jobs in Oregon, employment economist Gail Krumenauer said in a recorded video for the Oregon Employment Department that the pace of job creation slowed a little from July to August.

“The trends are still positive though,” Krumenauer said. “We’re seeing more jobs continue to be added, unemployment continue to decline. And at this point, the unemployment rate looks similar now to other periods in history when we’ve been in our strongest economic expansions.”

State employment data show that local governments — including schools — were big driver of job gains. That sector was responsible for 3,500 of the roughly 7,900 jobs added in Oregon last month.

Other sectors adding jobs included leisure and hospitality, a part of the economy that includes restaurants and hotels, which was hit hard over the last year and half by COVID-19 regulations, staff shortages and patrons’ health concerns. Leisure and hospitality added 1,200 jobs in August, according to state numbers.

However, the economy hasn’t added jobs everywhere. The Oregon Employment Department said the retail trade sector lost 1,900 jobs last month.

The state hasn’t completely recovered all of the jobs that were lost through the roughest period of the pandemic, either — but it’s restored 72% of them, according to Krumenauer.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Rob Manning has been both a reporter and an on-air host at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Before that, he filled both roles with local community station KBOO and nationally with Free Speech Radio News. He's also published freelance print stories with Portland's alternative weekly newspaper Willamette Week and Planning Magazine. In 2007, Rob received two awards for investigative reporting from the Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists, and he was part of the award-winning team responsible for OPB's "Hunger Series." His current beats range from education to the environment, sports to land-use planning, politics to housing.