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Economic Update – Detailed but also shows a lot of hope…

This week and next week, we are issuing a media statement. Our next media briefing will be at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, August 25.

Economic Update

  • Hiring continues at a strong pace nationwide. The U.S. added 943,000 jobs to nonfarm payrolls in July, and the unemployment rate fell to 5.4%.
  • Employers across the U.S. also posted another record number of job openings (10.1 million) in June.
  • Oregon’s unemployment rate and jobs numbers for July will be released next Tuesday, August 17.
  • In recent months, Oregon has also seen strong hiring. In the first six months of 2021, Oregon employers added about as many jobs as they did in the 22 months leading up to the pandemic.
  • Oregon employers have also reported record numbers of job vacancies. Between April and June, they had 98,000 job openings.
  • This means hiring remains competitive, and employers have responded many ways to competition for workers in tight labor markets. Those approaches are detailed in a recent blog post, and include:
    • Raising wages
    • Offering benefits or other perks
    • Loosening previous experience requirements for jobs
    • Advertising job openings in multiple places and ways – this includes WorkSource Oregon, where tens of thousands of workers have recently registered in the job matching system and started looking for work
  • Layering these options can help employers find and keep more workers in a tight labor market.
  • There are still people who have barriers keeping them from returning to work.
  • From April to June, 32,500 Oregonians were prevented from looking for work due to pandemic-related issues.
  • This includes households with children where all adults worked before the pandemic, but not all can work again until childcare or fully in-person school becomes available.
  • Teleworking would be one way for these groups to return to work amid another COVID-19 wave. However, that is becoming less and less of an option.
  • In May 2020, about one-third (35%) of workers nationwide could telework due to the pandemic. By July 2021, that declined to 13%.
  • These remain concerns as the Delta variant of COVID-19 has been on the rise.
  • Any potential jobs-related impacts happening now due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation would show in Oregon’s jobs report for August, which will be released on Tuesday, September 14. 

Benefits

  • We’ve paid $10.5 billion in benefits to more than 609,000 people from March 15, 2020 – August 10, 2021.
  • Last week, we paid about $95 million to 121,000 people.

Pandemic-Related, Temporary Federal Benefit Programs Ending

  • The pandemic-related federal unemployment benefit programs are ending. 
  • The programs that are ending include Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation (MEUC), and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC).
  • REMEMBER: The last eligible week for pandemic related federal benefits is the week ending September 4, 2021.
  • PUA applicants will have until October 5, 2021, to backdate their claim for eligible weeks prior to the end of the program.

o   Those who filed their initial claim on or before December 27, 2020, may be able to backdate their weeks to Feb. 8, 2020 if eligible.

o   Those who filed their claim after December 27, 2020, may be able to backdate their week to Dec. 12, 2020, if eligible.

  • We recommend that all claimants use WorkSource Oregon services and make a plan for their next step.
  • The Employment Department will hold a webinar on August 19 at 1 p.m. focused on the ending of pandemic-related federal programs and the resources available to Oregonians.
  • Visit our resources web page for more information on available services and programs for workers, employers, and those that are self-employed. These resources include:

o   211info.org

o   Rental Assistance

o   Oregon Food Bank

o   The Work Share program

o   Oregon Small Business Development Network

o   And more!

Debt Collection Activities

  • Federal law requires us to pursue collection of improperly paid benefits.
  • After a long pause, the Employment Department will restart active debt collection activities on debt that was already pending legal action when the pandemic began.
  • In mid-March 2020, the Employment Department stopped active debt collections, which means we:

o   Suspended wage garnishments for those who lost their jobs

o   Did not pursue warrants, garnishments, and liens for individuals who were in active collections prior to the pandemic

o   Continued sending billing statements to those with outstanding debts, but debt recovery occurred only through voluntary repayments

o   Created a UI Tax COVID abatement relief program for employers.

  • As we move back to actively recovering improperly paid benefits, we encourage those with an overpayment to request a waiver or hardship deferment.
  • Request a waiver or hardship deferment at unemployment.oregon.gov.

Employer required vaccinations and how they could impact benefits

  • As more employers require their workers to be vaccinated, Oregonians are asking how this may impact unemployment benefits if a worker quits or is terminated due to the requirement. Here is what workers and employers should know:

o   All unemployment claims and circumstances are unique, and are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

o   If there is a separation and the worker files for unemployment benefits, the department will investigate all of the factors that contributed to the separation, including but not limited to vaccine refusal, to determine benefit eligibility.

o   The department will also evaluate if claimants looking for work are willing to be vaccinated or use reasonable alternative protections in order to accept potential employment.

o   Exemptions may apply for workers who have a deeply held religious belief, are medically unable to get the vaccine, or exempt under ORS Chapter 433 or a collective bargaining agreement.

  • The Oregon Employment Department is closely watching what is happening with the Delta variant, vaccination requirements for state employees, and adjusting our safety protocols as the pandemic changes.
  • We remain thankful to our dedicated employees who have and continue to go above and beyond for Oregonians and to adjust to the ever-changing policies and procedures that we and the State of Oregon implement for theirs and others safety.

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