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April unemployment hits record 16.1%

Jackson County’s official unemployment rate hit a record 16.1% in April.

“It exceeds the peak of the Great Recession,” said Guy Tauer, regional economist for the Oregon Employment Department.

Roughly one out of six workers in Jackson County was unemployed, or 16,568 out of a civilian labor force of 103,221, according to the official estimates from the Employment Department.

Tauer said that during the peak of the Great Recession in March 2009, Jackson County had a 14.7% unemployment rate.

Josephine County had a 15.5% rate in April. Nationally, the rate hit 14.7% in April.

Tauer cautioned that the unemployment figures for the region are raw numbers and not seasonally adjusted, which is a statistical calculation that takes into account holidays and other variables.

He said software issues prevented the release of the seasonally adjusted rate, which is typically what is released. Tauer expects the seasonally adjusted rates to be released soon.

For instance, in March, the raw unemployment rate in Jackson County was 4.7% but the seasonally adjusted rate was 3.9%.

Oregon as a whole had an unemployment rate of 14.2% but the raw rate was 14.8%.

The raw numbers still point to staggering job losses as a result of the pandemic.

Despite how fast the unemployment rates shot up, the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis predicts the recovery will be quicker than the Great Recession, but a return to pre-pandemic unemployment numbers will likely not take place until 2024.

“This time around, it became clear overnight that Oregon is in recession and that the downturn will be severe,” according to the report.

The forecast predicts the second half of the year will show signs of strong recovery, barring any further setbacks because of COVID-19.

Uncertainty about public health issues will continue to moderate the economic recovery for the foreseeable future.

The hardest-hit sectors of the Jackson County economy in April were leisure and hospitality, with job losses at 5,460; health care and social assistance, at 1,500 jobs lost; manufacturing, 750; retail trade, 580; professional and business services, 260.

Despite the unprecedented local unemployment numbers, the rate of claims being filed slowed somewhat in May, though it’s still at record levels.

The week ending April 4 hit a peak of 2,783 unemployment claims filed. Since then numbers have trended downward.

While many industries began to partially reopen this month, Tauer said he didn’t expect to see an improvement in the unemployment numbers until the June estimates come out in July. He said the May unemployment rate may not fully capture all those who have returned to work.

Tauer said significant reductions in the unemployment rate will likely be tied to how soon this county can move from the partial reopening of many businesses to the full opening.

The lodging industry is bouncing back from one of the worst downturns in recent memory, with at least 50% of employees laid off after occupancy rates dropped below 30 percent in late March and early April.

“It’s the worst this industry has ever seen,” said Brad Niva, executive director of Travel Southern Oregon. “It’s worse than 9-11.”

But the industry has turned a corner, at least in Southern Oregon, with occupancy rates on the rebound compared to the rest of the state.

Occupancy rates are above 50% now, though they are typically up to 75% for this time of year, Niva said. Nurses, builders and electricians from out of town have helped fill some rooms locally, he said.

Portland and the coast usually have some of the highest occupancy rates, but Portland still has more social distancing requirements in place than Southern Oregon. The coast has seen an uptick in occupancy, Niva said.

For people wanting to travel a few hours within the state or from Northern California, room rates have dropped by up to 30%.

“There are good deals out there for travelers this summer,” he said.

With the Britt Festival and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival shut down this summer, Niva said marketing efforts will focus more on the outdoor activities available in the Rogue Valley, as well as the food and wine industry.

Niva said he expects to see river rafting and other outdoor adventure companies opening up more in the coming weeks.

“Southern Oregon is in a really good spot,” he said. “We have some of the lowest COVID-tracking numbers in the state.”

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