As with the rest of the country, Northwest Oregon’s economy had a wild ride in 2020. The year started off with a continuation of the weak employment growth that characterized 2019. The slow growth seemed emblematic of an economy near the peak of a business cycle. The region added just 20 jobs in January 2020 and 40 jobs in February. Employment in Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Lincoln, and Tillamook counties combined in February was actually down about 400 jobs over the previous year, although this comparison fluctuated from month to month with the weak and uneven expansion.
The situation changed abruptly in the middle of March as the COVID-19 pandemic struck and business operations were curtailed. March nonfarm employment fell 600 jobs in the region as some businesses responded to the situation before the March 12th payroll survey which is used to estimate monthly employment. But the real situation was revealed with April’s payroll survey. Employers in Northwest Oregon cut an additional 17,790 jobs by mid-April. This was a loss of 17.4% of the payroll jobs in the region in one month.
Although March was the beginning of record job losses for Northwest Oregon, the downturn didn’t last long. In May the region began adding jobs and recovered more than 9,000 jobs by August. Unfortunately, job growth sputtered in the fall as a second wave of COVID-19 cases occurred and the region’s tourism-based businesses headed into the slow season. It seems likely that employment will not return to pre-pandemic levels until the pandemic is over, business restrictions are ended, and people are willing and able to resume normal travel and activities. The Oregon Office of Economic Analysis is forecasting that Oregon will return to full employment in the first quarter of 2023.
Lincoln County lost 4,460 jobs (-24.7%) from February through April, proportionally more than any other county in the state. Much of the county’s employment depends on tourism, and the loss of 2,640 jobs (-60.4%) in leisure and hospitality in two months reflected that. Every industry except federal and state government lost jobs during the spring, and even they gained only 10 jobs each. Retail trade cut 530 jobs from February through April, local government lost 350 jobs, private educational and health services shed 270 jobs, and financial activities was down 210 jobs.
The county gained 2,720 jobs back over the rest of the year, including 1,530 in leisure and hospitality. Job growth in retail trade was even strong enough to pull the entire trade, transportation, and utilities industry ever so slightly above its pre-pandemic level. Unfortunately, the county’s nonfarm employment as a whole in December remained 9.6% below its February level and most industries are still below their pre-pandemic employment level.
Lincoln and Clatsop counties had unemployment rates in February (3.9% and 3.3%, respectively) essentially the same as the statewide rate. The pandemic recession hit both counties harder than anywhere else in the state. Lincoln County’s unemployment rate shot to 25.9% in April. These were the highest rates in the state. Their unemployment rates dropped throughout the year as their economies were helped by domestic travel. Rates in December were 7.7% in Lincoln County.
Information provided by Erik Knoder with Oregon Employment Department