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Local Unemployment Levels Hold Steady

BEND, OR -- Central Oregon unemployment rates appear to finally be leveling off after the pandemic-induced rollercoaster. Regional Economist Damon Runberg says Deschutes County’s jobless rate remains at 3.4%, just a tenth of a point above the record low. 

"When we saw the changes from May to June, both the hiring numbers - which, in Deschutes County was over 1100 jobs; so that sounds like a lot of jobs - but that is a totally normal expected amount of jobs to be added this time of year, as May and June are sort of peak seasonal hiring for the summer season." And, Runberg says, it’s the first time since February of 2020 that things have looked “normal.”

That near record low unemployment in June continues to strain local companies trying to fill job openings. Runberg says it’s a simple issue of supply and demand: The supply of workers cannot keep up, "There’s nobody sitting on the sidelines anymore. There’s no one who’s left the labor market - with the exception of retirees - that have gone permanently. It’s simply that we see pent up demand, super-heated economy stuff driving businesses to levels of hiring demand we haven’t seen before." But it isn't only a lack of supply of workers. Runberg says we saw similar numbers in 2019, "What’s abnormal today is the abnormally high demand for those workers. So, the only answer in the short-term is to increase your labor supply. Well, how do you do that when you live in a land-locked island, as I like to call Central Oregon? You actually have to recruit people from outside the area. The long-term play is have more babies. But that’s not a good answer for tomorrow." He says that recruitment from out of the area is hampered by the region’s lack of housing. 

And it’s not just Deschutes County. Jefferson and Crook counties also continue to add jobs, "The job growth there in Crook County is some of the most stellar job growth we’ve seen relative to pre-COVID levels, of 10%, which is awesome," says Runberg. Jefferson County's jobless rate in June was 4.6%, while Crook County's was 4.7%.

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