A closer look at Oregon’s pandemic recession

by Erik Knoder
Oregon Employment Department,

Oregon’s employers reported a total of 1,995,407 jobs during the second quarter of 2020 (April, May, and June). This was a decrease of nearly 200,000 from the previous year and it shows the record-setting drop in the number of jobs that occurred when the pandemic hit Oregon in March 2020. As a corollary to the loss of jobs, the median (middle) wage of all non-federal jobs rose to $22.47 per hour during the second quarter 2020, which was $2.31 per hour higher than the previous year.

Why the rise in median wage during a recession? There were two principal reasons: the low-wage leisure and hospitality industry accounted for a disproportionate share of jobs lost, and within essentially every industry lower-wage jobs were more likely to be cut. The state actually added 41,646 jobs that paid $30 per hour or more over the year to the second quarter of 2020. It lost 241,198 jobs that paid less than $30 per hour. The share of all jobs that paid $10 to $15 per hour fell to 20.3% in the second quarter of 2020 from 27.8% the previous year.

The largest loss in jobs over the year came in leisure and hospitality (-83,528 jobs) followed by professional and business services (-26,845 jobs); other services, which includes personal services, (-23,103); and local government, which includes public schools, (-22,458 jobs). The transportation, warehousing, and utilities industry, which includes delivery services, added 8,288 jobs.

The first quarter of 2020 was when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Oregon and when the subsequent recession began. The impact of measures taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic largely became evident in this data from the second quarter of 2020. The third quarter 2020 could see the addition of seasonal jobs, but many of the jobs lost in response to the pandemic were not recovered by then.

The largest gain (+$3.23 per hour) in median wage over the year was in local government, followed by the other services industry (+$3.19 per hour) and the information industry (+$3.15 per hour). The smallest gain in median wage was in the transportation, warehousing, and utilities industry which recorded only a $0.20 per hour increase. Although this industry added jobs, the vast majority of them were in the $15 to $30 per hour range. The median wage for non-classifiable jobs declined by $0.96 per hour. More than likely, some of the larger median wage gains for industries resulted from the disproportionate loss of lower-wage jobs.

Small Employers Added Jobs over the Year

Perhaps surprisingly, the pandemic seems to have hit small employers less than medium-size and large employers. Businesses with fewer than five employees actually added jobs (+1,895) over the year to the second quarter of 2020. All other size categories of employers cut jobs over the year. Employers with five to nine employees shed only 2.0% of their jobs – the least of all the groups that lost jobs. Employers with 50 to 99 employees lost 13.1% of their jobs over the year, the most of any size group. Employers with 20 to 49 employees cut 12.4% of their jobs and employers with 100 to 249 employees shed 11.5% of their jobs. Even large employers, those with 500 employees or more, cut 8.4% of their workers over the year. Part of the resilience of very small employers in retaining jobs may be that every employee constitutes a large share of the firm’s total employment. For example, laying off one employee in a three-person firm reduces employment by one-third; laying off one employee in a 100-person firm reduces employment by 1%.

The pandemic also appears to have had a large impact on multiple job holding by individuals. The number of people holding four or more jobs in the second quarter of 2020 dropped by 45.0% over the year, the number of people holding three jobs fell by 42.0%, and the number of people who held two jobs fell by 27.4%. This drop in multiple job holding buttresses the evidence that lower-wage workers are being disproportionately hurt by the pandemic. Multiple job holding is often associated with part-time work and lower-wage jobs. Finally, the wage records do not distinguish between jobs that are held simultaneously or consecutively during the quarter. The sharp decrease in multiple job holding may have due in part to the inability of individuals to find another job after they were laid off or intentionally quit.

To provide better data, this analysis also filters out job records that probably contain errors. Jobs that report zero hours or more than 999 hours (about 77 hours per week) worked in a quarter and jobs that paid less than the federal minimum wage ($7.25 per hour) are excluded. Jobs that paid more than $500 per hour and reported less than 10 hours work during the quarter are also excluded. Jobs are not excluded simply because they pay less than Oregon’s minimum wage. Although some jobs might be put in this category due to errors in reporting, there are also many jobs that are legitimately exempt from Oregon’s minimum wage.

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