Job growth slowing, but unemployment at 'record low'
SALEM — A preliminary jobs report released by the state last week showed that Oregon lost about 2,900 nonfarm jobs in April, the first time Oregon has had a net job loss in 16 months.
But jobs have grown steadily over the past year, and a month of job losses is typical even in years where the economy is expanding, state economists say.
The state's job growth rate over the past year — April 2017 to April 2018 — was 1.6 percent.
"That's fine and a good rate of growth," state employment economist Nick Beleiciks told lawmakers Tuesday, "But it has slowed and a lot of economists think that has to do with a shortage of workers available to take the jobs that are out there."
Employers said that in 2017, about 64 percent of their job vacancies were "difficult to fill," according to the Oregon Employment Department.
The current job growth rate matches the national job growth rate, but it has certainly slowed from 2015, when Oregon was adding jobs at a rate of 3.7 percent.
Job growth isn't uniform throughout the state. Beleiciks said it's driven by the Portland and Bend areas, the Rogue Valley and Lane County, where new job creation outpaces that of rural areas. In rural areas, a comparatively greater share of openings are due to vacancies in existing jobs rather than new positions.
The construction, leisure and hospitality sectors added the most jobs in April, according to the employment department.
Going forward, healthcare, construction and professional and business services are expected to grow at the highest rate through 2027, according to draft projections that don't include job replacement openings or self-employment.
About 72 percent of jobs added in the state last year paid more than the state's average wage of $51,132 per year.
Because average pay is only growing at the rate of inflation, the state isn't seeing "real wage gains" right now, Beleiciks said.
While the post-recession recovery of jobs lost and job growth has been uneven geographically, Oregon's rural counties are still performing better in terms of employment than they have in recent memory.
Oregon's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is at its lowest point — 4.1 percent — since 1976, the earliest year for which comparable records exist, Beleiciks said.
"Some areas of the state, like Grant County has the highest unemployment rate, 7.2 percent, as of April," Beleiciks said. "...(That) is really high, but for Grant County, since 1990, that's actually really close, if not the record low unemployment rate, for that area."