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Region's jobs inch forward in recovery

Rest of the state not expected to regain lost jobs until 2015


After six long years, the Portland area has regained all of the jobs — and then some — that were lost during the Great Recession.

The region, which includes five Oregon counties and two in Southwest Washington, lost 82,000 jobs in 2008 and 2009 as financial markets cratered and the housing market died.

As of February, employers had added back 86,200 jobs — 4,400 jobs above the pre-recession peak, according to the Oregon Employment Department.

Employment momentum has gained traction as all broad industry categories added workers for a total gain of 25,600 jobs since February 2013. That represents annual growth of 2.5 percent with the region adding jobs in 12 of the past 13 months.

“Construction remains the fastest-growing broad industry with job growth four times faster than the overall economy,” said Amy Vander Vliet, Oregon regional economist. “There’s been a rebound in housing (building) permits, the highest level since the recession. Commercial construction, especially at Intel’s Hillsboro campus, also has really helped.”

The Portland-area unemployment rate in February held steady at 6.4 percent. That’s down from 7.9 percent a year ago and the lowest jobless rate since August 2008. However, an estimated 81,500 area residents remain unemployed and looking for work.

Vander Vliet said the jobless rate would be lower but that the region has seen an influx of 62,000 new residents since 2010.

Some of these people are looking for work ... the labor market still has to absorb them,” she said.

In the 12 months through February, the region’s employers added workers in these occupational categories:

• Professional and business services, up 6,500.

• Retail and wholesale trade, up 5,700.

• Construction, up 4,100.

• Leisure and hospitality, up 3,800.

• Manufacturing, up 2,100.

• A total of 1.09 million workers hold jobs in the region

In the early phase of recovery in 2011 and 2012, the manufacturing sector led in job growth, outperforming the overall job market. The gains came in durable goods including semiconductors and transportation equipment. In the past year, manufacturing growth has slowed to about half that of the rest of the economy, the Employment Department said.

“Manufacturing rarely just plods along,” Vander Vliet said. “Hiring in this sector has a lot to do with national and global economies and the nature of the products produced here. It can be dramatic and cyclical.”

According to the monthly report, Portland is well ahead of the rest of Oregon with its recovery from the Great Recession. While the metro area has gained back more than 100 percent of the jobs lost here, the rest of the state has only recovered 74 percent of the jobs that were eliminated, Vander Vliet said.

“No one expected a quick turnaround because the recession was deep and widespread,” she said. “Portland metro got a little head start. Forecasts call for statewide full recovery by 2015.”

The Portland area includes Multnomah, Clackamas, Washington, Columbia, Yamhill counties in Oregon and Clark and Skamania, Wash. Statewide unemployment in February dropped to 6.9 percent, the first time below 7 percent in six years. The national rate was 6.7 percent.