SALEM — Oregon’s recovery from the coronavirus recession will likely be much faster than from prior downturns, state economists said last week in their quarterly economic forecast. The state’s jobless rate has plunged by more than half since the start of the pandemic, from 14.9% in April to 6.9% last month.
And yet they said there are growing signs of “permanent damage” to Oregon’s economy as the number of long-term unemployed soars.
The number of Oregonians who have been out of work for at least six months numbered nearly 55,000 in October, quadruple the 13,000 who had been out of work that long before the pandemic.
“The longer a spell of unemployment lasts, the lower the probability of finding a job and the higher probability of dropping out of the labor force entirely. This reduces the productive capacity of the economy as fewer people are available for work,” state economists wrote in the Nov. 18 forecast.
In March, Congress extended the duration of unemployment benefits from the usual 26 weeks by an additional 13 weeks. Oregon has paid out $189 million of those extended benefits during that period.
That 13-week extension expires at the end of the year, though, and there’s no indication the divided Congress will act to extend it during that period — and perhaps not after the new Congress and new president take office in January 2021.
Some workers will be eligible for other extended benefits, but the Oregon Employment Department estimates as many as 70,000 in the state could lose those benefits or others for self-employed workers when they expire on the day after Christmas.
Absent new federal support for workers and businesses, Oregon’s state forecasters say the damage the pandemic has inflicted on the economy could inflict long-term harm.
“Given that the end of the pandemic is in sight, provided the vaccine or medical treatment truly is available sooner rather than later,” the wrote, “the key to a full economic recovery is limiting the amount of permanent damage done in the meantime.”