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Local unemployment claims jump 432%

Jackson County saw a 432% increase in unemployment claims last week over the previous week, providing the first glimpse into how devastating the economic downturn from the COVID-19 pandemic has become.

The county had 1,054 claims processed last week compared to 198 the week before, according to the first wave of numbers released by the Oregon Employment Department since the pandemic-spawned economic crisis gripped the country.

“This reflects what we’ve been seeing happening throughout the state,” said Guy Tauer, regional economist with Oregon Employment Department in Medford.

Statewide, 20,800 claims were processed last week, with Jackson County representing roughly 5% of that amount. Nationally 3.3 million people filed for unemployment last week.

During the week of March 15, the Oregon Employment Department received more than 76,500 initial claims for unemployment insurance benefits, a sharp increase from 4,900 claims filed during the week of March 8.

Tauer said the county is continuing to see lots of people applying for unemployment as one industry after another scales back.

The unemployment numbers don’t reflect many of the devastating layoffs that have occurred this week, with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival announcing it was closing through the summer and laying off 80% of its staff.

In response to this unprecedented economic crisis, Congress on Friday approved a $2 trillion stimulus package that provides cash payments of $1,200 to every adult, which should be available in a few weeks.

The stimulus provides extra money to help the unemployed weather this economic crisis and hopefully stem some of the damage from the downturn.

The food and lodging industry is the hardest hit sector locally, with 397 claims filed last week compared to 17 the week before. Statewide there were 10,700 claims processed in this sector — 38% of all the claims processed last week.

“We also saw a spike in claims in the health care industry,” Tauer said.

Normally the health care sector has weathered economic downturns relatively unscathed, but not this time, with 139 claims filed last week in Jackson County compared to 27 the week before — a more than 400% increase.

Retail trade, which has seen many stores shutting down, had a 277% increase in the county, from 13 to 39 last week. Local manufacturing saw claims jump from 17 to 97.

Construction, which usually is hard hit during economic downturns, went from 32 claims to 53, a 66% increase.

Arts, entertainment and education claims went from 9 to 42, again not reflecting the layoffs announced this week.

In Jackson County, the total for nonfarm payroll workers was 87,370 in March.

Anyone who has been laid off or furloughed should file an unemployment claim through http://worksourceoregon.org.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.