SALEM — One in seven Oregon workers lost their jobs in the spring of 2020 as the pandemic hit, shutting bars, restaurants, salons and thousands of other businesses.
Many people returned to work within weeks but remained uneasy into 2021 amid the pandemic’s unprecedented toll on Oregon’s economy. Worries spiked again last winter amid a steep rise in pandemic cases, according to survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Now, as the state emerges from the pandemic’s shadow, Oregonians have become considerably more optimistic about their job outlook.
In late June, when the Census Bureau asked if they expect anyone in their household will lose employment income in the next four weeks, just 11% said yes.
Just over a year earlier, as the pandemic was rocking the state, 41% had responded yes to that same question.
Workers’ growing optimism parallels a hopeful outlook from Oregon employers. A similar survey of small-business owners found that three quarters expect they will return to “normal” operations within six months.
Additionally, Oregonians’ upbeat outlook is accompanied by a sharp rise in wages. Oregon’s average wage is up by 6.7% since the pandemic started, which translates into an average of $3,900 a year more for full-time workers.
The Census Bureau survey is a blunt instrument, which tracks respondents by state — Oregon’s responses generally align with national attitudes — but not by demographic groups. So it may be that some workers find less reason for optimism.
In Oregon, industries with more diverse workers tended to be the ones most battered by the pandemic.
Women, who represented just 41% of jobless claims before the pandemic, were 51% of claims during the pandemic, according to a new analysis by Oregon Employment Department economist Gail Krumenauer.
And Krumenauer noted that while Latino workers represent an especially high percentage of the hard-hit leisure and hospitality sector, the share of jobless claims by Latino workers actually fell during the pandemic.
Demographic information is often absent from jobless claims forms, Krumenauer wrote, and it’s conceivable that for some reason Latino workers were less likely to be laid off than their peers.
But she said it’s also possible that “barriers to unemployment benefits may have also affected this or any other demographic,” especially those who don’t speak English.
If so, that means some workers who most needed aid during the pandemic couldn’t get it. And it suggests that we have yet to gauge just how severe the pandemic was in some communities — information the Census Bureau’s survey may not measure, either.