Oregon’s Unemployment Rate Falls to 5.4 Percent, Inching Below the National Rate
In March, Oregon’s unemployment rate fell below the U.S. rate for the first time since 1996, dropping to 5.4 percent, from 5.8 percent in February. The U.S. unemployment rate was 5.5 percent in March. While the difference between the Oregon and the U.S. March unemployment rates was not statistically significant, the fact that Oregon’s rate is below the nation’s shows how much the state’s economy has improved over the last year.
Reflecting an improving economy, Oregon’s unemployment rate dropped substantially over the past 12 months; in March 2014, Oregon’s rate was 7.1 percent.
This winter, two factors benefitted Oregon’s economy relative to many states. First, Oregon’s weather was unusually mild during much of the first three months of the year, while many economies in the northeastern U.S. were hit hard by severe winter weather. In the short term, the weather boosted Oregon’s employment in weather-dependent industries above normal levels. And second, the plunge in oil prices since mid-2014 led to lower gasoline and other fuel prices which benefited Oregon consumers and likely led to greater demand for certain goods and services.
A primary reason for Oregon’s declining unemployment rate is rapid job growth. Employment growth accelerated over the past two years, reflecting a strengthening economy and contributing to a tightening labor market. Total nonfarm payrolls grew by 56,100 jobs, or 3.3 percent, in the 12 months ending in March. Since March 2014, two major industries each added over 10,000 jobs: professional and business services (+11,500 jobs or +5.3%) and health care and social assistance (+10,300 jobs or +4.9%). Job gains were also above 3 percent in the following major industries: manufacturing; transportation, warehousing and utilities; and leisure and hospitality.
In March, payrolls grew by 4,300 jobs, about the average growth rate of the prior 12 months. Most major industries performed close to seasonal expectations, but health care and social assistance (+1,700 jobs) vigorously expanded.