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Jackson County restores 72% of jobs lost to COVID-19

Jackson County businesses have added back 72% of the jobs lost earlier this year because of COVID-19.

“During the worst of the pandemic, between February and April, we lost 11,370 jobs,” said Guy Tauer, regional economist for the Oregon Employment Department. “We’ve gained back 8,130 of those jobs.”

Even with the gains, the unemployment rate in September was 8.7%, still much higher than the 3.8% from last year.

Tauer said he doesn’t anticipate significant changes in the unemployment rate when the October numbers come out in a couple of weeks.

However, with COVID-19 case spiking throughout Oregon and specifically in Jackson County, Tauer said further restrictions that Gov. Kate Brown imposes could have an impact on unemployment numbers going forward.

Tauer said while the Almeda fire impacted 130 businesses, the job losses shouldn’t push up the unemployment rate significantly when the October numbers are released in about two weeks.

The employment department has data on 63 of the businesses affected by the Almeda fire, representing 510 jobs, or 0.6% of the total labor market, according to September 2019 data.

The average pay for the jobs is $32,703.

Tauer said his department did see a spike in weekly initial unemployment insurance claims from the week ending Sept. 19, increasing to 401 claims from 185 claims filed the week ending September 5. The Almeda fire started Sept. 8.

Jackson County’s unemployment rate is slightly ahead of Oregon’s, which was at 8% in September, down from 8.9% in August.

The national unemployment rate was 7.9% in September but dropped to 6.9% in October.

The national rate is published first, followed by the state rate and then local rates.

While the trend has been for lower unemployment rates throughout the country, some states have seen spikes due to COVID outbreaks.

For instance, the Texas unemployment rate jumped to 8.3% in September, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. That rate for Texas returned the state to unemployment levels not seen since the Great Recession.

With so much uncertainty, Tauer said, “The burning question is what are things looking like going forward?”

He said that the trends show continued improvement to the local economy, though at a slower pace.

A vaccine should be widely available over the next six months, which would spur more economic activity, particularly related to travel, restaurants and retail.

In the near term, a lot depends on actions the governor might take to slow the spread of COVID.

Oregon, California and Washington state issued a coronavirus travel advisory Friday urging people arriving in their states to self-quarantine for 14 days. Out-of-state trips are also discouraged.

The governor on Friday announced a two-week freeze for Oregon, starting on Nov. 18, that will sharply curtail activities in many businesses and organizations because of a sharp rise in COVID cases.

The employment department announced it would increase its ability to handle an increase in unemployment claims as a result of the freeze.

One encouraging sign is an up tick in business creation statewide in the third quarter, Tauer said.

Seasonal employment changes are also anticipated as retail hires more employees heading into the holiday shopping season.

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