SALEM — Oregon’s unemployment rate edged down in March. But Union County’s unemployment rate rose while neighboring Wallowa and Baker counties saw their rates continue to decline.
Union County’s unemployment rate hit 7.1%, an increase of 1.1% from February, according to the latest data from the Oregon Employment Department. The county had 876 job seekers in March, 138 more than the month before. The county’s nonfarm payroll stands at 9,890, an increase of 70 jobs from February.
Baker County’s unemployment rate ticked down from 5.7% in February to 5.6% in March, the Oregon Employment Department reported. Baker County has 414 unemployed, nine fewer than last month, and 5,230 in nonfarm work, a drop of 20 from last month.
Wallowa County’s rate dropped from 5% to 4.6%. The county totals 167 unemployed, a decrease of 16. The county has 2,440 nonfarm jobs, a decrease of 20 from February.
In Umatilla County, the unemployment rate increased two-tenths of a point to 5.8%. It added 66 people to the unemployment rolls for a total of 2,209 for March. Umatilla County also added 120 to its nonfarm jobs for a total of 27,430.
According to the most recent Oregon Employment Department Job Vacancy Survey of private employers, the occupation with the most job openings in Eastern Oregon (Baker, Grant, Harney, Malheur, Morrow, Umatilla, Union and Wallowa counties) in 2020 was heavy truck and semitrailer drivers with 284, about 11% of the total vacancies within the region.
Statewide, Oregon’s unemployment rate shifted from 6.1% in February to 6% in March. For the past three months, according to the Employment Department, Oregon’s unemployment rate has ticked down by one-tenth of a point each month.
During the past 11 months the pace of recovery in Oregon’s unemployment rate has mirrored the national experience. The U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 6% in March, from 6.2% in February.
Nonfarm payroll employment rose 20,100 jobs in March, following a gain of 15,300, as revised, in February. Two-thirds of all the jobs gained in March were in leisure and hospitality (+13,900 jobs).
Three other major industries added more than 1,000 jobs each: manufacturing (+2,000 jobs); professional and business services (+1,300); and transportation, warehousing and utilities (+1,100). Construction and private educational services each added 700 jobs. All other major industries performed close to their normal seasonal patterns.
The addition of the 20,100 total nonfarm jobs in March was Oregon’s largest monthly gain since July 2020, when the state added 38,300 jobs. March’s gain was the third monthly increase, following a large drop in December that was the result of temporary, heightened restrictions at the time.
In March, Oregon’s nonfarm payroll employment totaled 1,840,600, a drop of 132,400 jobs, or 6.7% from the pre-recession peak in February 2020. Oregon’s employment dropped to a low of 1,687,500 by April 2020. Since then, Oregon has recovered 153,100 jobs, or 54% of the jobs lost between February and April 2020.
During the past year, the employment gyrations in leisure and hospitality have accounted for a large share of the swings in Oregon’s total employment. This broad category includes restaurants, bars, coffee shops, hotels, golf courses and fitness centers.
The industry employed a peak of 216,300 workers in February 2020, which was 11% of total nonfarm payroll employment. Then, within two months, leisure and hospitality cut more than half its jobs. Since then, the industry has recovered about half the drop to employ 165,200 by November. Then came a new slew of COVID-19 restrictions, knocking the industry to 136,800 jobs in December.
Since then, the industry added 25,900 jobs and is close to its recent high point from last November, but it is still far below its February 2020 peak.