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State jobless rate lowest since 1976

PORTLAND — Oregon's unemployment rate tumbled to 4.5 percent in March — the lowest mark since comparable record-keeping began in 1976, figures released Tuesday show.

A total of 1.94 million Oregonians were employed in March, an increase from 1.84 million at this time last year when the jobless rate was 5.7 percent, the State Employment Department statistics indicate.

Meanwhile, the job gains led to rising wages, with the average pay rate for private sector payroll employees jumping to $24.45 an hour last month, an increase of more than a dollar from a year ago.

"Businesses are raising wages to attract the help they need, and it's working because people are flocking to Oregon's labor force," said Nick Beleiciks, state employment economist.

The jobless rate has steadily dropped since reaching a peak of nearly 12 percent in 2009. It's now a half-percentage point below the U.S. unemployment rate, a distinction Oregon last saw in 1995.

Oregon added 3,900 jobs last month, led by the health care and wholesale trade sectors, after a revised gain of 7,400 jobs in February.

Another measure of unemployment that includes discouraged workers who stopped looking as well as part-time workers who want but can't get full-time jobs fell to 9.5 percent — down from 12.2 percent in March 2015.

Still, Gov. Kate Brown noted that rural areas are not keeping pace with the booming Portland metropolitan area.

"We must address the digital divide in rural communities to expand access to the vast resources of the internet," she said in a statement. "All of Oregon, rural and urban, must have the opportunity to share in this historic economic momentum."