The Worsening Employment Picture

It is fortunate indeed that we are no longer reliant on Oregon’s major newspapers as our sole source of information. If we were, we would be led to believe that Oregon’s employment picture was rapidly brightening as reflected in Saturday’s headlines in the Oregonian:

“Jobless Rates Drop in 17 States in July”

Followed by what is presumably the local insert to an Associated Press story:

“Oregon was one of the gainers, at 11.9 percent in July versus a revised rate of 12 percent in June.”

Nothing could be farther from the truth and we are left to wonder whether the Oregonian is 1) so heavily invested in the policies of Kulongoski that it turns a blind eye to the facts, 2) so ignorant of what constitutes an improving economy that it draws unsupported conclusions, or 3) just so lazy that it accepts national press stories as gospel without every checking the underlying facts.

Regardless of the reason, the inaccuracy of the Oregonian’s story misleads readers into believing things are getting better while, in fact, Oregon continues on an eighteen month decline in employment.

I have noted in previous columns that unemployment figures can be misleading when judging the relative health or progress of a state’s economy. The unemployment figures represent the total number of Oregonians receiving unemployment benefits — not the total number unemployed. People drop off the unemployment benefit roles for a variety of reasons. They run out of eligibility — with recent extensions the benefit period now exceeds one year. They give up and join the ranks of the permanently unemployed. They leave the state for better job opportunities elsewhere.

At any rate, Oregon’s unemployment rate was at 5.2 percent in November of 2007 and, thereafter, began inching upward. By July of 2008 it was 6.3 percent and thereafter rapidly climbed to 12.2 percent in May of this year before falling back to 11.9 percent for July. As of July, Oregon is tied with California for fourth among the worst states for unemployment.

But those statistics hide the real deteriorating picture of Oregon’s employment and thus its economic health. Oregon reached its peak employment in November and December of 2007 at 1,738,100 persons working. Commencing with January 1, 2008, the state began a long slide in the number of persons actually employed. Between December of 2008 and January of 2009 the state lost 13,000 jobs. By the end of February there was an additional 22,800 job loss and in March another 19,700. By June the rate had slowed to 2,400 but even in July (while the unemployment rate improved) Oregon lost another 700 jobs.

All told, between peak employment in December of 2007 and July of this year, Oregon has shed nearly 108,000 jobs. However, given that government employment has increased during that same period of time by nearly 25,000, the private sector (the measure of any state’s economic health) has shed nearly 133,000 jobs. The vast majority of those job losses have occurred in the fields of manufacturing, construction and transportation — traditionally among the highest paying sectors.

During Oregon’s last recession, Oregon lost nearly 66,000 jobs between peak employment in November of 2000 and the nadir in June of 2003. It took until December of 2004 to fully regain the 66,000 jobs lost.

This time the job loss is twice as great and the decline much more rapid. The question is how long it will take to recover those 133,000 private sector jobs lost. Given the track record of the Kitzhaber/Kulongoski administrations, Oregonians should expect a long climb out. And that climb out is now made immeasurably more difficult because Kulongoski and his liberal friends in the legislature have shrunk the available capital for job creation by nearly $1 billion per year through a variety of tax increases.

Even with expanded unemployment benefits, if you are one of the unfortunate souls who have lost their jobs during this recession, you may want to look elsewhere because the likelihood is that your unemployment benefits will run out before your job returns.

This is no way to run a state.