Resilience: It's An Economic Concept, Too

Aug 20, 2020

Resilience after a disaster can mean re-building bridges or restoring power. But resilience can also mean restoring an economy. As part of our year-long series on resilience, KLCC’s Chris Lehman spoke with Gail Krumenauer, the state employment economist at the Oregon Employment Department.


Krumenauer said the coronavirus pandemic followed the state’s longest economic expansion since World War II. But it hit the state harder than the Great Recession that started in 2007.

Gail Krumenauer: “If you take a look during the worst of the Great Recession, Oregon lost about 100,000 non-farm payroll jobs in a seven month span of time. And that’s pretty bad. Then if you look at the COVID-19 crisis, just this April, one month alone in 2020, Oregon lost more than 250,000 jobs in one month. So just the abruptness and depth of that is really nothing like we’ve even seen.”

Gail Krumenauer

Chris Lehman: “What kind of time frame could we be looking at, assuming that the state ever recovers back to what it was at the beginning, what kind of time frame could we be looking at here for a recovery?”

Gail Krumenauer: “I think it’s been really difficult to tell, right? The economy is still following the effects of what’s happening with the continuing and still unpredictable coronavirus. And so it’s hard to say what’s going to happen to the course of the economy, I think, without having a full understanding of what’s going to happen with the course of the virus. Because remember, a lot of what’s happened in the economy has been due to public health and safety measures.”

Chris Lehman: “In a typical recession and recovery cycle, if there is such a thing, how does the rate of how the layoffs happen compared to the rates of how people are hired back?”

Gail Krumenauer: “It’s one of those things that we’ve seen is varied by area, and by industry. So when we went into the Great Recession and came back out of it, we saw that Oregon, on the whole, went from the peak employment in 2007, didn’t get back to that until 2014. In the Portland metro area, for example, that happened a whole year sooner. And so that’s something that would be different by area.

Right now, we’re looking at this rebounding, this hiring coming back, really differently among industries. We still have 168,000 fewer non-farm payroll jobs in July than we did in February. That said, health care and social assistance has regained two-thirds of the jobs that were lost between February and May. And similarly, retail trade has brought back about two out of three jobs. So we’re seeing some industries that are bouncing back a little bit more.

Leisure and hospitality, we know, has been the largest affected sector of the economy in the COVID-19 recession. It lost half of its jobs, and has now brought back half of the ones that are gone. So, a tremendous rebound there.

And some other industries have struggled more. Manufacturing is notable in that over the last three months, it has lost jobs, where we’ve seen some of these other industries making those bouncebacks.”

Chris Lehman: “From an economic standpoint, how do you know when you’ve recovered? You can say, well, the number of jobs are back to where they were before. But we don’t know what kind of growth would have happened had the pandemic not come along. So how do you say we’re back to where we were if there was no pandemic, or is that something we can ever even definitively say?”

Gail Krumenauer: “The way we have typically looked at it is to take a look at where were we before a recession happened, and then the period of decline, the economic contraction, and then until you get back up to where you were before at that last point, that is the period of recovery. Once you have exceeded the point where you were before the last recession started, then that’s the period of expansion, generally.

And again, that has been different in different areas of Oregon, that’s been different across different industries of Oregon. And I expect that to be true related to the pandemic, and the recovery and future expansion as well. It may not be the same as it’s been in the past, just because the nature of this is different, but I do expect it to happen unevenly across different areas and different industries.”

Funding for KLCC’s Oregon’s Natural Resources and Resilience series is provided by the UO Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics.