Oregon Employment Is Recovering: Economically speaking, Oregon was one of the hottest states in the pre-pandemic era. In 2019, average annual nonfarm employment in Oregon reached an all-time high of more than 1.954 million. In February 2020, monthly nonfarm employment reached a record high of a 1.973 million employees. Then, however, the pandemic struck the United States and Oregon, like every state, suffered severe economic damage. From April 2019 to April 2020, nonfarm employment in Oregon fell by 13.4%, from 1.948 million down to 1.687 million.
The road to recovery has been rocky and uneven. And now, with the proliferation of the delta variant and its uncertainties, Oregon’s economic rebound could be in trouble. Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Employment Statistics (CES), we analyzed nonfarm payrolls to determine the state of Oregon employment and that of its largest metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) that the BLS tracks. Read on to find out which cities in Oregon are faring the best and which are still struggling.
The Bend-Redmond metro area was one of the fastest-growing places in the U.S. before the pandemic hit. The city of Bend’s population was 76,639 back in 2010, before growing by 31% to reach more than 100,000 in 2019, according to US Census data. The labor market in the Bend area grew by leaps and bounds during the 2010s, with average annual nonfarm employment increasing by 6.03%, 7.05%, and 6.21% from 2013-2014, 2014-2015, and 2015-2016, respectively. When the Covid-19 pandemic struck in 2020, Bend’s employment numbers took a noticeable hit, but fared better than other major Oregon cities. From 2019 to 2020, average nonfarm employment fell by 4.82%, from an average of 87,200 employees in 2019, down to an average of 83,000 in 2020. From a monthly low of 72,700 employed in April 2020, the Bend metro area has recovered impressively in 2021. By April 2021, monthly nonfarm employment had reached 85,600, up 17.7% from the April before.
Grants Pass, Oregon
The Grants Pass area absorbed the economic impact of the pandemic more adeptly than many other Oregon metro areas. Average annual nonfarm employment for the Grants Pass area fell by 4.34% from 2019 to 2020, which is less steep than the state’s year-over-year decline, 6.54%. From an average of 27,700 on nonfarm payrolls in 2019, employment in the Grants Pass area dipped but only to 26,500. By March 2021, monthly employment reached 27,000 again and then exceeded it in April 2020.
Oregon’s capital city experienced robust growth in both its population and labor force over the last two decades. The 2010s were especially kind to the labor market, with annual nonfarm payrolls growing by 3.72% from 2013 to 2014, 3.68% from 2014 to 2015, and 3.71% from 2015 to 2016. Monthly jobs peaked at an estimated 175,100 employed in the Salem metro area in December 2019. Then, with the pandemic in full force, monthly payroll fell 11.5% year over year, from 172,7000 in April 2019, down to 152,900 in April 2020. The Salem area has seen jobs recover since the worst of the pandemic last year, but monthly nonfarm employment numbers are still well below 170,000.
Medford, like Grants Pass, is also in southern Oregon and this region in general absorbed the pandemic’s impact better than the densely populated areas, like Portland. The Medford metro area saw nonfarm payrolls contract by more than 4.6% from 2019 to 2020, but this was better than the state average. The labor market began to recover but then stabilized in the second half of 2020. Finally, in March 2021, nonfarm employment in the Medford area exceeded 87,000 again, and has maintained this through June 2021.
The Albany metro area took the pandemic fairly hard, with annual nonfarm employment declining by 5.74% from 2019 to 2020. However, this sharp decline was in part due to spectacular growth in the 2010s. Oregon employment grew substantially in those years, but in the Albany area especially, the growth was huge, reaching a peak of 47,200 on nonfarm payrolls in April 2019. A year later, as the pandemic took hold, nonfarm employment had dropped to 41,100, a year-over-year decline of almost 13%. Recovery has been so-so, with monthly nonfarm payrolls still a ways off from the 2019 annual average of 46,900 people.
Being a bustling and densely populated city, Portland was particularly vulnerable to worst of the pandemic’s effects. From April 2019 to April 2020, the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro area lost roughly 161,200 jobs. Annual average nonfarm employment in 2019 was 1.228 million, but then dropped 6.89%, down to 1.143 million — the biggest year-over-year decline in employment going back to 1990, and worse than during the late-2000s financial crisis. The Portland area’s labor market is heading in the right direction, but it’s adding jobs slowly month to month, and is still well below the average nonfarm payroll numbers from 2019.
Like so many Oregon cities, Eugene has seen robust growth in its population and economy over the last few decades. Since 2010, the city’s population has grown 10.5%, to more than 172,000 people in 2019. The Eugene area’s labor market has grown dramatically as well since 2010, reaching an annual average of 164,400 on nonfarm payrolls in 2019. But Eugene’s labor market tends to get hit hard when downturns roll in: During the late-2000s crash, Eugene’s average annual nonfarm employment dropped by 8% (from 155,400 to 142,900); with the Covid-19 pandemic, the story was similar, with the annual average declining by 7.62% from 2019 to 2020 (from 164,400 to 151,900). In fact, Eugene is the only metro area on this list that has not seen its average nonfarm employment in 2021 improve on 2020.