Thursday, March 23, 2017

Oregon’s unemployment rate dropped to 4.0 percent in February---But what's next?

The March 21 report from the Oregon Employment Department says the following:

Oregon’s unemployment rate dropped to 4.0 percent in February, from 4.3 percent in January. This was the lowest unemployment rate since comparable records began in 1976. Oregon’s 4.0 percent unemployment rate was significantly lower than the U.S. unemployment rate of 4.7 percent in February.

In February, the number of unemployed Oregonians dropped to about 82,000, which was the lowest number since August 1995 when about 82,000 were unemployed. By contrast, the labor force has grown from just under 1.7 million in 1995 to over 2.0 million today.

In February, nonfarm payroll employment surged ahead by 8,200 following a revised gain of 700 in January. Government grew the most of the major sectors, as it added 4,400 jobs, rebounding from a loss of 3,400 jobs in January. Similarly, health care and social assistance shot up by 2,400 jobs in February following a loss of 1,700 the prior month. Manufacturing added 1,300 after a loss of 200 in January. Construction continued to grow rapidly by adding 900 jobs in February, following a strong gain of 2,500 in January. Only one major industry cut more than 600 jobs in February as transportation, warehousing and utilities shed 1,400.

Over the past 12 months, payroll employment added 39,900 jobs, or 2.2 percent, which was a slight deceleration from the growth rate near or above 3 percent throughout much of the past four years. Oregon is still growing faster than the U.S. growth rate of 1.6 percent.

Government employment is a major factor in employment growth here, but this comes as the state budget and services faces a particular crisis driven in large part by corporations gaming the system and not paying their necessary shares in taxes. It seems doubtful that government employment will continue to help sustain job growth unless this is done through temporary work and short-term grants which do not provide much security for workers and which hurt service delivery. Likewise, Trump's healthcare plan will do some serious damage to what passes for a healthcare infrastructure, and the industry will downsize.

Manufacturing, mining and logging, utilities and wholesale trade losses hurt because it is the production of goods and services and the distribution of these goods and services which make the system run and because so many of these jobs are being lost due to automation. Some of these losses can be sustained while people can find jobs elsewhere, but when workers cannot be absorbed elsewhere then we are in crisis mode. Automation only produces more but does not guarantee consumption; the higher profit rates which are achieved help create a long-term tendency towards monopolization and most often go into the pockets of multinational corporations and banks. So-called "excess capital" feeds the worst part of the banks and the multinational financial institutions and these destroy our communities through housing bubbles and evictions, privatization of schools and services and raids on pension funds. Mining and logging can't and won't provide long-term employment, and they create overall ecological and economic losses which cannot be fixed under capitalism.

I'm not taking a "half-empty glass" approach. If you're working and making money and have time to breathe and relax, enjoy it. But we need a Plan B in place for when the worst of the state budget crisis hits, when many of us lose healthcare, and as automation increases.


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