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MailTribune.com
  • State jobless rate falls below 8 percent

    May rate was 7.8 percent after strong gains in construction, trade and transportation sectors
  • SALEM — The unemployment rate in Oregon has dipped below 8 percent for the first time since the nation fell steeply into the Great Recession in the fall of 2008. The state unemployment rate was 7.8 percent in May and, after a revision, 7.9 percent in April, the state Employment Department said Tuesday.
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  • SALEM — The unemployment rate in Oregon has dipped below 8 percent for the first time since the nation fell steeply into the Great Recession in the fall of 2008. The state unemployment rate was 7.8 percent in May and, after a revision, 7.9 percent in April, the state Employment Department said Tuesday.
    "Having the rate drop below 8 percent, that is a good sign," says Chris Greaves, a research analyst with the Oregon Employment Department.
    Greaves says the seasonally adjusted nonfarm payroll rose by 3,800 jobs in May. That means the number of jobs has increased for eight consecutive months now.
    "The sector that had the most gain was construction," Greaves says. "They added 1,600 jobs when they normally only add 300 in May. Trade, transportation and utilities, they also had significant gains in May."
    Greaves says there was a relative decline in the manufacturing sector. It usually adds 1,600 jobs at this time of the year. It only added 800. He thinks that's because durable goods manufacturers didn't hire as many people as usual.
    Economists say that months of such job gains have helped to reduce the jobless rate.
    But, they say, the rate also is falling because the percentage of the population in the labor force is dropping. What's called "labor force participation" is at a 40-year low in Oregon.
    Retiring baby boomers are a significant reason for that.
    The percentage of adults in the labor force varies widely statewide. It's 83.7 percent in Hood River County, and it's 47.4 percent in the southern coastal retirement center of Curry County.
    Unemployment in Oregon is now just slightly higher than the U.S. average, 7.6 percent. The two-tenths of a percentage point difference is the smallest margin since May 2008.
    University of Oregon economist Tim Duy says the state rate needs to be seen in context.
    "The unemployment rate now is not that much lower than what we saw in 2003-2004 ... and that was in what we thought was a bad recession at the time," Duy says. "So there's really plenty of room going forward for improvement, even though I think in Oregon we've seen the pace of activity pick up a little bit in the last six months."
    At the outset of the recession, Oregon's unemployment rate rose steeply. By May 2009, it stood at 11.6 percent. It has fallen about a percentage point a year since then.
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