SALEM, Ore. — After a long period of job growth and low unemployment, Josephine and Jackson counties continued to add new jobs through the end of February, according to the latest numbers from the Oregon Employment Department (OED). However, the early outlook for March shows a statewide about-face.
In February, Josephine County's payroll employment rose by a net 80 jobs, primarily in retail and construction. Over the past year, the county added 500 jobs in total — particularly in private education and health services, professional and business services, and government employment.
We are experiencing a record level of requests for unemployment benefits. We continue to move more Employment Department employees from other jobs in the agency to take unemployment claims. We appreciate your patience during these unprecedented times. pic.twitter.com/qwPO0c28JK— Oregon Employment Department (@ORemployment) March 31, 2020
Jackson County saw an even more dramatic gain in February, adding 500 jobs in that month alone. Most of those jobs were in leisure and hospitality, manufacturing, private education and health services, and government employment through education. Over the past year, Jackson County added a net 250 jobs as gains in some industries offset losses in others.
Klamath County’s seasonally adjusted February unemployment rate of 6.1 percent changed little from January, though it was down significantly from 7 percent in February 2019. The Department’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for Lake County dropped to 4.4 percent in February, down from 6.4 percent in February 2019.
Curry County’s total payroll employment added 80 jobs in February over January.
But, as OED heralded in earlier statements, COVID-19 and the state's response to it have caused an unprecedented bloom in job loss, unemployment, and underemployment.
“As the realities of the COVID-19 restrictions take hold of the local economy, we look back on employment and unemployment estimates from February," OED said in a preface to its report. "Despite these month-old estimates seeming outdated, they will provide an important baseline for us as we begin to see job losses reported in these formal employment and unemployment estimates moving forward. We will likely look back at these February 2020 estimates as the peak of our most recent expansion.”
During the week of March 15-21, OED says it processed around 22,800 unemployment insurance claims — four times the week immediately prior, which had 4,900 claims.
"The department received a total of 76,500 claims online and by phone, around 20 times the workload experienced in a typical week," OED said.
The agency has had to scramble in order to redeploy staff, open up more phone lines, and hire more employees to respond. OED says it is still offering job seeker and employer services with additional, socially distanced options.
"We are present to help Oregonians who have experienced tremendous disruptions, while also doing our part to follow health and safety guidelines for our communities," the agency said.
The employment figures for March at the county and city level won't be released until April 21, with statewide data expected by the week before that. Inevitably, job losses and unemployment claims will continue to mount over the remainder of March.
A few industries have been able to continue hiring amid the coronavirus pandemic, namely those considered essential or front-line services under the current state restrictions. Fred Meyer signaled on Friday that it had hired 1,000 new workers in the Pacific Northwest, with plans to hire more.