Job Gains Amid COVID Waves: 2021 Year in Review

by Gail Krumenauer

April 7, 2022

Oregon made strong gains towards a full jobs recovery in 2021. Employers added 102,100 jobs over the year. The tremendous job gains came in waves amid an ongoing global pandemic, and were unevenly distributed across the economy. Several sectors fully recovered their recession losses and expanded to new highs, while others struggled to add jobs during the year.

Spring Growth

Oregon began 2021 in another partial shutdown due to a winter wave of cases in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. After ending 2020 with a loss of 18,500 jobs in December, total nonfarm payroll gains were limited to 300 jobs in January 2021.

COVID cases started to subside in mid-January, and COVID vaccines were starting to be administered. Oregon’s economy began to more fully reopen again in March. Job gains surged again; employers added another 46,600 jobs by April.
The bulk of Oregon’s early year job gains went to leisure and hospitality. Oregon’s restaurants, hotels, bars, and entertainment places added 29,900, accounting for 64% of all the jobs gained in Oregon between February and April.

Summer Surge

The next large burst of gains came in July, when Oregon added 34,800 jobs. This was largely due to an increase of 20,200 jobs in local government.

On an unadjusted basis, that large gain was actually due to fewer layoffs than expected. Typically local government employment – about half of which is public K-12 and higher education jobs – would have been expected to shed 31,700 jobs in July. Oregon’s public schools shuttered in spring 2020, and had only partially reopened by spring 2021. Many local government employees who would have been let go for summer break still hadn’t been hired back from the 2020 closures.

Schools had also received expanded summer 2021 program funding, resulting in an upswing in some city and county government jobs. As a result, local government declines totaled 11,500 in July, or a seasonally adjusted gain of 20,200 jobs.

Fall Stall

Momentum shifted down after July. August brought the Delta wave of COVID-19 cases in Oregon; confirmed and presumptive case numbers stayed elevated through the early part of November. Oregon netted a loss of 1,500 total nonfarm jobs in the three-month period of August, September, and October.

Local government saw a sharp reversal in its trends, with a seasonally adjusted loss of 12,800 jobs in these three months. Local government education was the last sector of Oregon’s economy to fully reopen, and school doors opened in a competitive hiring year for employers. Even though schools also had fewer declines through the summer than they typically would, they also staffed up less than would be the seasonal norm as the 2021-2022 school year got underway.

Private health care and social assistance had the second-largest job decline after the onset of the Delta wave. The sector lost 2,600 jobs in the August-to-October period. Every major part of the sector lost jobs in both September and October.

This was also a partial reversal in trends. From January to June, ambulatory health care services – which includes doctors’ and specialists’ offices – added 1,000 jobs. Oregon’s private hospitals added 200 jobs each month in July and August, after netting a loss of 800 jobs in the first half of the year. Nursing and residential care facilities lost jobs throughout 2021, including the summer and fall, and only saw its first monthly job gain in December.
Lagging Industries

Both public and private education in Oregon had been lagging in recovery since the pandemic recession ended. Most schools were either fully or partially shuttered from spring 2020 through late summer 2021. Oregon’s health care sector was further along in its recovery from the pandemic recession, but fell behind in July 2021, and continued to decline for the remainder of the year. By December, private health care and social assistance had regained 55% of the jobs lost in spring 2020. Meanwhile, Oregon had regained 80% of total nonfarm job losses.

Leisure and hospitality accounted for more than half of all the jobs added in 2021. The sector added 53,700 jobs over the year, and regained 87% of its recession job losses by December. Yet leisure and hospitality remained 14,600 jobs below its pre-recession employment level by the end of 2021, the largest gap of any sector.
A Strong Finish

Oregon bounced back in November and December, with monthly job gains of 11,600 and 6,600, respectively. Nondurable goods manufacturing added 2,800 jobs, and administrative and waste services employment rose by 3,400 jobs. Several sectors of Oregon’s economy closed out 2021 at new, record-high employment levels. They included construction; nondurable goods manufacturing; retail trade; and transportation, warehousing, and utilities. 

Despite lagging in recovery, leisure and hospitality continued to add the most jobs, with gains of 5,800 in the last two months of the year. Other lagging industries ticked up as well. Private education and local government each added 1,100 jobs in the two-month period. By contrast, private health care and social assistance continued to struggle. It was the only broad sector of Oregon’s economy with a large job loss in the last two months of the year (-1,600).
A New Year

Despite occurring unevenly across months and sectors, the anticipated opportunity for greater recovery and rapid economic healing came to fruition in 2021. Combatting COVID-19 remains an ongoing concern, as Oregon and the U.S. kicked off 2022 with the largest case counts to date in January during the Omicron wave. Yet, job gains continued alongside the latest wave of pandemic cases. Oregon employers added 5,100 jobs in January 2022, and another 12,300 in February. The latest forecast from the Office of Economic Analysis predicts continued growth in 2022, and a full jobs recovery by year’s end.


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