The COVID Recession: How is Oregon Doing by Region?

The coronavirus pandemic has led to job losses throughout the United States, leaving many Oregonians unemployed and unable to find work. However, not everyone has felt the same impacts: Oregon’s rural areas, particularly the southern and eastern parts of the state, are losing fewer jobs than urban centers.   

Historically, Oregon’s rural towns have fared the worst during the state’s economic downturns, but amid COVID-19, job losses in the south and east are roughly half of what they’ve been in the Portland area, according to the Oregonian. In August, the lowest unemployment rate in the state was in Wheeler County, at 4.4 percent.  

Portland and cities along the Oregon coast have seen significant losses, particularly because jobs that typically serve tourists or large crowds – such as restaurants, hotels, and entertainment venues – have either reduced operations or shut down. Guy Tauer, regional economist for southern Oregon, told The Oregonian that the state has lost 25 percent of all leisure and hospitality jobs this year.   

From Aug. 2019 to Aug. 2020, the Willamette Valley as a whole saw a 6.5 percent decrease in employment, compared to 4.4 percent in southern Oregon and 5.8 percent in eastern Oregon. Benton County had an unemployment rate of 8.4 percent as of June after peaking at 10.3 percent in April.   

Lower job loss in the southern and eastern parts of the state are also attributed to the fact that those areas have a relatively high share of government jobs, which are less volatile than many private sector jobs.   

Chris Rich, the state’s regional economist for eastern Oregon, said the COVID recession still has the potential to worsen in the southern and eastern parts of the state, particularly if the pandemic continues to linger.   

“I think that’s always a concern,” Rich told the Oregonian.  

By Jada Krening