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Aug. 1, 2021

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Oregon hiring stalls as recovery slows

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Oregon added just 2,200 jobs in April – one-tenth as many as in March. That’s a worrying sign for the state’s economic outlook and parallels a national hiring slowdown.

Oregon’s unemployment rate remained steady at 6.0%, according to data out Tuesday from the Oregon Employment Department. That’s unchanged from March, making April the first month since the pandemic’s outset that the state’s jobless rate didn’t improve. The national jobless rate was 6.1% last month.

Overall, there are 117,400 fewer jobs in Oregon than in the month before the pandemic hit, a 6% decline.

Government jobs posted the biggest gains in March, at 2,300, which economists said reflected school re-openings. Leisure and hospitality added 2,000 jobs, the next-largest gains. Manufacturing, warehousing and retail all lost hundreds of jobs last month.

Economists across the country are puzzling over the hiring slowdown. A computer chip shortage has cooled manufacturing by limiting access to key components, some workers may be cautious about returning to their jobs during the pandemic, and many parents are unable to work while schools are closed or operating on severely reduced schedules.

Employers, though, say some workers are staying away because they can make more from unemployment benefits than they can at certain low-wage jobs. In Oregon, the value of the average weekly jobless benefit is $16.75 an hour, including a $300 federal bonus paid each week through Labor Day.

That’s above the minimum wage, which ranges from $11.50 to $13.50 an hour, depending on region. But it’s well below the roughly $24 an hour that full-time workers average in Oregon.

Regardless of the reason, Tuesday’s jobs numbers indicate a slowdown in Oregon’s economic recovery. Economists are divided over whether it’s a signal of more trouble ahead, or if it’s a brief pause ahead of the broad reopening now underway as COVID-19 vaccines become prevalent.

Oregon state economists issue their quarterly revenue forecast Wednesday afternoon.

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