Oregon is on the verge of fully recovering jobs lost during the pandemic, according to the Oregon Department of Employment. But the gains are uneven, and for some industries, and hundreds of thousands of Oregonians battling a long Covid, the road ahead is still uncertain.
Oregon has recovered 94% of the jobs lost since the start of the pandemic, according to data released Wednesday by the Department of Employment.
“We should be fully back to pre-Covid employment numbers by the end of this year,” Gail Krumenauer, employment economist at the department, told an online news conference.
Nationally, about 98% of the jobs lost during the pandemic have been recovered.
In Oregon, construction, health care and social services, recreation and hospitality as well as “other services” which encompass everything from machine repair to dry cleaning to animal care company, had the largest job gains. No industry has seen significant job losses, but leisure and hospitality continue to lag other industries’ overall job gains since the start of the pandemic.
Ongoing impacts for hospitality and leisure
In 2019, nearly 2 million people in Oregon were employed, which was a record, according to a study by researchers at the Institute for Policy Research and Engagement at the University of Oregon. Within weeks of public health mandates that shuttered many businesses, nearly 15% of those jobs were gone. Almost half were in the leisure and hospitality sector, which includes restaurants and hotels. This sector has recovered about 87% of the jobs it lost at the start of the pandemic, according to the Oregon Department of Employment, but remains short of nearly 17,000 jobs.
The reasons are many.
Krumenauer said the sector tends to suffer the most because it has the lowest average starting salaries, offers fewer full-time positions and tends to employ younger workers who have higher turnover rates.
She said the retail industry tends to have similar characteristics among its workforce, but noted it was able to rebound faster by raising the average starting salary by $1. hour this spring at about $17 an hour on average.
“The other thing is just the scale that leisure and hospitality have to overcome to get back to pre-pandemic levels,” Krumenauer said. “This industry lost 120,000 jobs in just two months.”
Employers struggling to fill positions
Employers are trying to fill about twice as many vacancies today as they were in the spring of 2019, according to Krumenauer. This spring, she said, employers in Oregon reported difficulty filling nearly 75% of jobs. Across the country, there are two job vacancies for every unemployed person.
Krumenauer said Oregon employers have reported raising wages, increasing benefits and job flexibility, and reducing some experience requirements. In the University of Oregon survey, about 5% of workers in the state said they quit their jobs during Covid and nearly a quarter were considering quitting their jobs. They cited salary as the number one reason for quitting, followed by stress and burnout. Nearly one in three Oregonians reported a change in employment status during the pandemic.
Long Covid impacts wages
In Oregon, up to 280,000 people missed at least a day of work due to long Covid, the study found. Long Covid is defined by the Mayo Clinic as persistent symptoms or symptoms that appear four weeks or more after the initial infection. Up to 30,000 Oregonians with long-term Covid have missed more than a year of work, the study found. This resulted in wage losses of up to $1 billion, according to the study. One in five adults in the United States who have contracted Covid have been living with Covid for a long time, according to the US subcommittee House Select on the Coronavirus Crisis. That’s about 16 million Americans. The committee found that around 1 million Americans have been forced out of their jobs due to long-term medical conditions resulting from Covid.