SALEM, Ore. — The coronavirus pandemic and resulting shutdowns have caused nearly all sectors of the U.S. economy to hemorrhage jobs, leading to skyrocketing unemployment claims beyond those seen during the Great Recession. As states reopen, some of those jobs have started to return, and a recent study from financial site WalletHub found that Oregon tops the recovery list.
"The June jobs report brought good news for American workers, as it showed that the U.S. added 4.8 million nonfarm payroll jobs during the month, exceeding expert projections," wrote WalletHub financial writer Adam McCann. "This demonstrates that the process of reopening states has had a positive impact, and many workers who were temporarily laid off while their employers remained closed are now being rehired."
WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across three metrics based on changes in unemployment claims — the change in claims from last week compared to the same week last year, the change in claims from last week compared to the start of 2020, and the change in claims since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis compared to last year.
According to the study, Oregon ranked best in the nation for recovery over the past week and second in the nation for recovery since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.
Oregon has not been without its struggles, counting more than 505,000 regular initial unemployment claims between March 15 and the beginning of July, and building a backlog of unaddressed claims over the course of months. It wasn't until lawmakers applied increasing pressure on the state Employment Department that the agency developed a plan to address the backlog.
Governor Kate Brown ousted the erstwhile OED director at the beginning of June, and the agency has made significant progress on backlogged claims since.
Processing Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims — those covered by federal CARES Act funding for disenfranchised independent contractors, gig workers, and the self-employed — has proven more difficult for OED. Less than half of those claims have been processed as of July 4, and roughly a quarter have started receiving payments.
Much of Oregon's strength compared to the rest of the U.S. by WalletHub's metrics can be attributed to a smaller boom in unemployment overall. Over the latest week of available data Oregon saw the smallest increase in claims year over year. It also saw the smallest increase in claims comparing the latest week to the start of 2020.
Comparing the change in claims from the start of the COVID-19 crisis to the same period last year, the only state that saw a smaller increase in claims than Oregon was Connecticut.