Oregon job vacancies keep rising even as ranks of the jobless dwindle; the hiring squeeze hasn’t eased

Oregon job vacancies keep rising even as ranks of the jobless dwindle; the hiring squeeze hasn’t eased

Oregon had more than 106,000 vacant jobs last spring but counted just 78,000 unemployed workers.

It’s the third consecutive quarter that there were more job openings than job seekers, and the gap is widening. That suggests the hiring squeeze that has plagued Oregon employers for well over a year isn’t easing up.

Nearly a quarter of the state’s job openings are in the hospitality sector, according to new data out this month from the Oregon Employment Department. Bars, restaurants and hotels have struggled to replace the workers laid off early in the pandemic, many of whom found other jobs while their former employers were closed by government mandate to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Health care openings were the second-biggest category, with more than 20,000 vacancies. Demand for medical services remains elevated but hiring hasn’t been able to keep up. And many workers have left the profession in the past two years amid the extreme pressures wrought by COVID-19.

It’s nearly unprecedented for the number of job vacancies to outnumber unemployed workers. Back in 2013, as the state was emerging from the Great Recession, there were nearly eight unemployed Oregonians for every single job opening.

The economy bounced back from the pandemic recession much faster than many businesses anticipated, transforming the job market in the process. Every state is now facing similar labor shortages, according to federal data.

Oregon employers were offering $21.36 per hour, on average, to fill vacant jobs last spring. That’s a 7.0% increase compared to a year earlier, even after accounting for inflation. Employers are having to pay more – a lot more – to attract workers amid the ongoing shortage. (Overall, Oregon wages aren’t keeping up with inflation.)

That suggests a robust job market that challenges rising costs, falling consumer confidence and growing talk of recession.

The worker shortage could be contributing to those problems, though. Rising wages fuel spending, which fuels inflation. The same goes for businesses that have to pay more to attract workers, and often passing those higher labor costs along to consumers.

This is Oregon Insight, The Oregonian’s weekly look at the numbers behind the state’s economy. View past installments here.

— Mike Rogoway | mrogoway@oregonian.com | Twitter: @rogoway |

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