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One out of seven in Jackson County file for unemployment

Job losses in Jackson County mirrored the record-breaking national unemployment rate of 14.7% in April, with roughly one out seven local workers filing claims since the pandemic bludgeoned the economy.

“What we’re seeing nationally will be reflected in Oregon and in local numbers,” said Guy Tauer, regional economist with the Oregon Employment Department. “What’s happening in Southern Oregon is a microcosm of the rest of the U.S.”

According to the latest unemployment claims report, 13,499 claims have been filed since March 15, or 14% of the 98,950 who were working in Jackson County at the end of 2019, which includes those in agriculture and the self-employed.

The claims data is still preliminary and doesn’t capture all those who filed with for unemployment compensation. The official April unemployment rate will be released later this month, but the March rate for the county was 3.9%, reflecting a 10-year downward trend.

Nationally, 20.5 million workers have had some form of job loss, according to federal labor data.

Last week 1,712 unemployment claims were filed in Jackson County, up from 1,478 for the week ending April 25.

Still, the numbers are lower than the week ending April 4, when claims peaked at 2,783.

In each of the past seven weeks, unemployment claims filed in Oregon have exceeded anytime during the Great Recession.

Tauer said job losses have hit almost every local industry.

Manufacturing took a big hit last week, with 387 claims filed, the largest number filed in any week since March 15.

The hotel and food service sector saw 253 claims filed last week, compared to 258 the week before and 674 filed in the week ending March 28.

Tauer said his department doesn’t compile data on the cannabis industry in Jackson County. Cannabis and hemp both are major players in the local economy.

Tauer said data from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission showed record cannabis sales throughout the state in April.

Despite the grim unemployment numbers, Tauer said he doesn’t think this economic downturn will hit Jackson County significantly harder than the rest of the state. During the Great Recession, this county faced a huge slump in the real estate market, which affected it more than the rest of the state.

During a mild recession in 2001, Portland had a more significant slump than Jackson County, he said.

The Employment Department received 19,600 initial claims in Oregon for the week ending May 2. Since the pandemic shut the economy down, there have been 381,800 claims filed in the state.

Tauer said the Employment Department has added staff to deal with the surge of claims and has processed four out of five claims received to date.

“We’re making headway,” he said.

Even with additional staff, wait times for people calling the Employment Department have been close to two hours.

The Employment Department has processed more than 10,000 applications for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits for the self-employed, including contract, gig and other workers not eligible for regular unemployment benefits, and claims are being processed seven days a week.

Testing is underway for the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which allows up to 13 weeks of benefits for those out of work because of COVID-19 business closures.

To file an unemployment claim, go to Oregon.gov/employ.

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