Start Focusing on Employment Rather Than Unemployment

Dueling statistics in The Oregonian from former Labor Commissioner Jack Roberts and current GOP Chairman Allen Alley highlight the difference between “boosterism” and “unpleasant reality.” Mr. Roberts cited a first quarter drop in Oregon’s unemployment rate and moderate growth in the states Gross Domestic Product as evidence that Oregon is “leading the way” in economic recovery.

Mr. Alley cites those same statistics over a longer period to demonstrate that Oregon has made only modest gains after a decade of losses and continues to lag both Washington and Oregon – not to mention other major Western States and Texas – in recovery.

So who is right? Neither. I don’t mean that the statistics are wrong. I mean they are looking at the wrong statistics.

While the number of unemployment claims may be of interest to the government class because it represents the number of people currently beholden to the government for their welfare, it fails to provide a true measure of the state’s employment. Mr. Alley correctly points out that the “unemployment” numbers don’t reflect those who have given up looking for a job, those who are working part time because they can’t find a full time job or those who have exhausted their unemployment benefits because they have been out of work for over 99 weeks. Curiously, Oregon state government does not publish actual numbers of unemployed but rather simply the “rate of unemployment.”

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, on the other hand, provides the actual number of unemployed receiving benefits and they get that number from the State of Oregon. For instance, in March when Oregon was reporting 9.9% unemployment, that represented 198,377 claimants, in April 9.4% unemployment represented 190,557 claimants and in May 9.3% unemployment represented 185,540 claimants. (The Bureau, as of the writing of this column, has not published the June figures.)

Looking at the unemployment numbers would suggest that between March and April, Oregon added 7,820 jobs and that between April and May another 5,017 were added. But you would be wrong and it is precisely why the unemployment numbers should be ignored when talking about the economic health of the state.

Proof of that fact is found in the “employment” statistics also compiled by Oregon’s Department of Employment. The department’s Oregon Labor Market Information System (OLMIS) provides monthly data on the number of people actually employed in Oregon. So when you look at that data, you see that between March and April a paltry 1,100 jobs were created and between April and May only 700 jobs were created. The most recent numbers indicate that only 800 jobs were created between May and June.

The OLMIS database produces not only the gross number of people employed in Oregon but the number of people by category. It is here that the real picture of Oregon’s economic vitality is told. During the recent recession, Oregon’s private sector lost 152,000 jobs while federal, state and local government employment grew. The sectors hit the hardest were the highest paying jobs – Construction, Manufacturing, and Trade and Transportation. And in the aftermath of the recession, these sectors have recovered the least. For instance, the modest growth of 1,300 jobs in May was represented by 600 government jobs and only 700 private sector jobs. Even at that, Oregon’s critical growth sectors – Construction and Manufacturing – lost 600 and 1000 jobs respectively. The job growth of 800 in June found that minimum wage and seasonal jobs in Leisure and Industry increased by 2,200 while Manufacturing shed another 2,000 jobs and Trade and Transportation lost 1,800 jobs.

The decline of quality jobs in Oregon continues. The increase in those who have given up looking for jobs increases.  Meanwhile the focus of state government is on increasing government dependency rather than creating jobs.

Something is terribly wrong in Oregon and Oregon state government under twenty four years of Democrat administrations has failed to find a solution. While Oregon Democrats continue to blame George Bush, the fact of the matter is that other states like Texas, Utah, Arizona, Washington and Colorado are making steady progress while Oregon continues to fall farther behind.

Get over yourselves.