Oregon reports steepest jobless rise in nation

PORTLAND — Oregon has recorded the steepest year-over-year rise in unemployment rates among the states and now its jobless rate ranks second among them.

This week, the state Employment Department said the Oregon unemployment rate jumped to 12.1 percent in March, matching the highest rate of the recession of the early 1980s.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday that put the state second to Michigan, whose unemployment rate is 12.6 percent. South Carolina is third at 11.4 percent. The national rate is 8.5 percent.

The federal agency says that Oregon's unemployment rate has risen 6.6 percentage points since March of last year, the largest increase in the nation. South Carolina's rate has increased 5.5 percentage points.

Oregon's rate far exceeds the nation's 8.5 percent seasonally adjusted rate, and tops neighboring California's 11.2 percent rate and Washington's 9.2 percent.

Economists say Oregon's rate is climbing due to both layoffs and an unusually large increase in the labor force from people such as retirees and nonworking spouses who are looking for jobs.

The state reported Monday that 256,404 Oregonians were unemployed last month, more than double the number in March 2008.

Three times as many Oregonians are receiving unemployment benefits now as were this time last year.

State labor economist Art Ayre says that each of the last three months has seen jumps of more than one full percentage point in the jobless rate.

"These are extremely large compared to the historical record," Ayre said.

During the last recession in 2001-03, the largest over-the-month change was 0.4 percentage points, Ayre said.

Ayre said the difference between Oregon's rate and the nation's is now the biggest since modern day records began more than 40 years ago.

He said that normally, employers add jobs this time of year because the weather improves for construction so housing starts pick up while leisure and hospitality businesses begin hiring because people start making summer vacation plans.

But now, instead of hiring, companies are cutting. For example, in the transportation and utilities sector, 1,800 jobs were cut when a gain of 1,800 is typical.

The professional sector cut 700 jobs when a gain of 1,700 would have fit the seasonal pattern.

Ayre says the only sector to add jobs was the government. And it only added 200 jobs when 1200 would have been usual.

At a state job center in Tualatin where dozens of people were sitting in cubicles checking computers for jobs, Meagan Ty-Walker said she was laid off in January from a market research company in Portland.

She's expanded her search nationally and even with foreign firms, and has landed some interviews but has repeatedly been told companies are under a hiring freeze.

"I was unemployed briefly back in 2004 and it is definitely taking longer this time," Ty-Walker said.

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