Although Oregon's unemployment rate of 4% is the lowest the figure has been for at least three decades, that number doesn't accurately reflect the economic situation in rural counties, according to a new report from the Oregon Center for Public Policy (OCPP), a left-leaning Portland-based policy think tank.

The report found that as of 2018, 14 Oregon counties—all but one of them rural —still had not recovered the jobs lost during the Great Recession.

Those lagging behind include Umatilla, Baker, Malheur, Lincoln, Union, Coos, Douglas, Lake, Gilliam, Klamath, Curry, Grant, Harney, and Crook counties.

A map showing the percent change in employment from 2007 to 2018 in Oregon’s counties. (Courtesy of Oregon Center for Public Policy)
A map showing the percent change in employment from 2007 to 2018 in Oregon’s counties. (Courtesy of Oregon Center for Public Policy)

"By some measures, the Oregon jobs market has rarely looked better, but the statewide figures can mask the difficulties some communities are facing," said OCPP policy fellow Audrey Mechling in a statement. In other words, recovery from the Great Recession isn't equal between urban and rural counties.

In those rural counties, the unemployment rate was 5.5% in 2018. In counties comprising the Portland metro area, unemployment stood at 3.6%.

In communities of color, unemployment rates are higher. Latinx Oregonians have an unemployment rate of 5.6%, compared to white Oregonians, who have an unemployment rate of 4.1%. In 2014, black Oregonians had a rate of 13.6%, twice that of whites at the time. (The report used the 2014 figure because it was the most recent data available on black Oregonians.)

The July 2019 statewide unemployment rate of 4% — from a OCPP analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data—is lower than previous lows between 4.7% and 5% in 1995, 2000, and 2007, as well as 11.9% during the Great Recession.

Despite historically-low unemployment, wages remain stagnant for typical Oregonians.

"Despite the overall jobs recovery, the wages of the typical Oregonian remain stuck in a long-term pattern of stagnation," the report says. "For most of that four-decade stretch, the median worker was making less than they did in 1979."

Since 1971, wages for the median worker in Oregon, adjusted for inflation, have risen just 1 percent.

"When wages remain stagnant even in the face of one of the longest periods of economic expansion and lowest levels of unemployment, it's time for lawmakers to put in place policies that increase the paychecks of workers," Mechling added. "From boosting tax credits for working families to removing obstacles to unionization, there is much lawmakers can do."