Three women from Salem are getting work experience at Marion-Polk Food Share — and occasional emergency food boxes — but what they really want are jobs.

Three women from Salem are getting work experience at Marion-Polk Food Share — and occasional emergency food boxes — but what they really want are jobs.

They were not alone in searching for work on Labor Day Monday.

Despite a slowly recovering job market, as reported by state economists in their quarterly forecast last week, a new think-tank report says that Oregon is still years away from providing all the jobs sought by thousands of people without them.

"Labor Day is a day we should be able to know we have great jobs and a great economy — but we don't," said Shay Knapp of Salem, who lives with her 13-year-old son.

Knapp, Monica Hernandez and Kelly Murphy are gaining experience at Marion-Polk Food Share, one of Oregon's 20 regional food banks, as a way to re-enter the work force.

The work is subsidized by the state's Jobs Plus program, which attempts to move welfare recipients to work with public and private employers.

But the social safety net by government and nonprofit agencies has worn thin with the heavy demands from years of the downturn.

Although the technical end to the national recession was in mid-2009, a new report issued by the Oregon Center for Public Policy — a think tank based in Silverton — projects that it will take until 2018 for Oregon to make up the lost jobs.

"The Great Recession dug an even deeper hole than the recession of the early 1980s, and the recovery is taking longer than in previous recessions," said Jason Gettel, the policy analyst who prepared the numbers for the report.

Although the report offers a bleak outlook, there are some short-term and long-term things that could be done, Gettel said.

Among actions that state lawmakers and the governor can take:

Extend unemployment benefits to part-time workers, who are now ineligible if they seek just part-time work. Oregon did not make this change when lawmakers acted in 2009 to obtain additional federal unemployment benefits that Congress made available to states as incentives. Make child care more available and reduce its cost: "It should not be a barrier to people getting work, and providing child care is also a way to get people back to work." Expand short-term training incentives such as completing high school, enrolling in community colleges, and obtaining National Career Readiness Certificates; for the latter, Oregon recently surpassed the 25,000 mark. Beef up education: "In the long term, providing a more educated work force lays the groundwork for the economy to be more productive, and leads to higher median wages for workers."

But the think tank has been opposed to most tax breaks as incentives for economic growth.

"There is no real evidence that cutting taxes leads to job growth," Gettel said. "They make the state less able to provide services that people need in a weak job market. They also translate into less spending and fewer workers in the public sector."