Oregon Employment Department Economic News and Agency Status

Posted on April 16, 2022

April 15, 2022 Oregon Employment Department

Media Statement

Economic update

On April 13, the Employment Department released the March unemployment rate and jobs numbers for Oregon.

Oregon’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.8% in March. As of March, the state’s unemployment was only slightly higher than the record-low 3.4% we saw in the months right before the pandemic recession.

Oregon employers added 102,000 jobs in 2021. Solid job gains have continued into the first few months of 2022.

Oregon employers added 5,600 jobs in March. Construction saw the biggest gains, adding 1,500 jobs over the month. Financial activities added 1,400 jobs. These gains occurred in the real estate and rental and leasing part of the sector.

In contrast, professional and business services lost 900 jobs in March.
Those losses were concentrated in the administrative and waste services part of the sector. That includes businesses like temp agencies and call centers, among others.

Oregon has recovered 87% of the jobs lost in the pandemic recession. This is similar to what’s happening in the U.S., which has regained 93% of the jobs lost in spring 2020.

According to Gail Krumenauer, state employment economist, “There still seems to be a misperception out there that workers just aren’t coming back to jobs yet, or that people are just leaving the workforce altogether. Actually, in March, Oregon had more people in the labor force than ever before. At the same time, we also had a larger share of people ages 16 years and older participating in the labor force than we’ve seen in about a decade.”

She continues, “Even though inflation has been casting a shadow over the economy in recent months, we’ve been seeing good job growth and ongoing declines in unemployment.”

Two years into the pandemic, an agency progress report

In 2020, the pandemic caused hundreds of Oregon businesses to close, creating an unprecedented and immediate surge of unemployment claims. The unemployment rate skyrocketed in three months from 3.4% in January 2020 to 13.3% in April 2020. The number of unemployed Oregonians increased by 279%, and the number of unemployment insurance benefit claims filed per month increased by 800%. The scale and pace of this job loss was like nothing seen before in Oregon or the nation.

Just like other state employment agencies across the country, the Oregon Employment Department, having weathered previous recessions, was overwhelmed with the torrent of Oregonians seeking benefits. This left people in desperate need of help, who waited for hours on hold.

Now, two years later, the department has improved in many ways. As we move past the second anniversary of the beginning of the pandemic in Oregon, Acting Director David Gerstenfeld commented on the challenges and accomplishments the Employment Department experienced, as well as the department’s status in April 2022.

“We’ve resolved the initial claims backlog, with more than $12 billion in benefits paid from March 2020 to today,” Gerstenfeld said. “That’s 12 billion that went back to help people and communities in Oregon; $12 billion in two years compared to an average of about $520 million per year in pre-pandemic times.”

In addition, the phone wait times for the unemployment insurance contact center have improved dramatically. As of April 1, 2022, staff answer 98% of calls in five minutes or less.

One of the ways the department measures its success as an agency is to compare Oregon to other states. Two of these measures are whether state agencies get first benefit payments to claimants within 21 days, and what percentage of claims are adjudicated within 21 days.

“Even though these core state measures tracked by the U.S. Department of Labor regarding customer service have some serious flaws, they still help paint a general picture,” said Gerstenfeld.

For first-payment timeliness, Oregon ranked 34th in the nation in the
first quarter of 2020, while in the first quarter of 2022, Oregon ranked eighth. For adjudication timeliness, Oregon ranked 45th in the first quarter of 2020, and now in the first quarter of 2022, Oregon ranked fifth.

Gerstenfeld explained, “During the past two years, Oregon improved from nearly last in the nation to among the top states in the country. We did what was best for Oregonians and focused on helping those who had been waiting the longest – even though we knew it would initially not look good in how the federal performance measures are reported. That approach, and the strategic changes we made to how we help Oregonians, means Oregon has made great gains that many other states are not seeing.”

Gerstenfeld: “We look forward to continued growth and evolution…”

While the Oregon Employment Department has improved its performance in many key areas, Gerstenfeld acknowledged there is still more work to do. “We have done a lot to improve, and we know it’s not enough – we are committed to continuing to improve. While we continue to work on pandemic-related effects on our Unemployment Insurance system (like overpayment waivers and federal program resolution), we remain agile and focused on improving the customer experience. We look forward to the continued growth and evolution of the Employment Department, as we continue providing the essential services that impact the people, businesses, and communities of Oregon.”

The Oregon Employment Department (OED) is an equal opportunity agency. Everyone has a right to use OED programs and services. OED provides free help. Some examples are sign language and spoken language interpreters, written materials in other languages, braille, large print, audio and other formats. If you need help, please call 971-673-6400. TTY users call 711. You can also ask for help at OED_Communications@employ.oregon.gov.

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