Oregon's Economy: Employment

sunset in the Columbia River Gorge
Sunrise from the Portland Women's Forum State Scenic Viewpoint showing Crown Point and the Vista House to the east in the Columbia River Gorge. (Oregon State Archives Scenic Image 20140501-7350​)

Labor Force

Although uneven across sectors, more Oregonians moving into jobs during the relatively rapid overall jobs recovery has resulted in dramatic improvements in the state’s unemployment rate. Two years after reaching an all-time high of 13.3%, Oregon’s unemployment rate has improved by nearly 10 percentage points and near our all-time record low again.

What’s more, the unemployment rate improved as the labor force grew to new highs, and participation rose. Oregon’s labor force has recovered from the pandemic recession and hit new record highs in early 2022. Labor force participation also shows strong trends. The share of Oregonians ages 16 or older either working, or unemployed and actively seeking a job (and available and able to take one if offered), is at its highest rate in a decade.

Job Openings

The relatively fast jobs recovery, low unemployment and more workers forging self-employment or other paths have all made it more difficult for employers seeking to hire. That was also the case when unemployment was low in 2019, before the pandemic. Employers’ difficulty finding enough workers has been exacerbated during this economic recovery by the record high number of job openings. These job openings—and resulting worker shortages—have been widespread across Oregon’s economy. Ten of 14 broad sectors hit record levels of vacancies at some point since spring 2021.

The low-unemployment and high-competition environment has also created record difficulty for employers to fill their job vacancies. At least seven out of 10 job openings have been hard for private employers to fill for more than a year. Given the high number of job vacancies and relatively low available workforce, it’s not surprising that employers cited a lack of applicants as the primary challenge for nearly half (47%) of all hard-to-fill job openings in 2021.

Sportsman Cafe sign
Food service and drinking places industry tops Oregon's employment list. Shown above is a cafe sign in Oakridge. (Oregon State Archives Photo)

Oregon’s Top Ten Private Sector Industries by Employment in 2021

(Source: Oregon Employment Department, Workforce and Economic Research Division)

  1. Food services and drinking places (134,000)
  2. Ambulatory health care services (94,300)
  3. Administrative and support services (92,900)
  4. Specialty trade contractors (69,000)
  5. Social assistance (65,200)
  6. Hospitals (58,400)
  7. Nursing & residential care facilities (49,600)
  8. Food and beverage stores (45,900)
  9. Real estate (42,300)
  10. General merchandise stores (41,200)​
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