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Oregon Unemployment Claim Numbers Continue To Increase Amid Pandemic

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During the week of March 29 alone, the most recent week of available data, the department received 100,700 initial claims — up from the nearly 93,000 claims it had received the week before.  

The Oregon Employment Department said Thursday that it has received 269,900 initial unemployment claims in three weeks.   

In comparison, there were 147,800 net job losses in Oregon during the Great Recession, the department said.   

“These are obviously huge, huge numbers of claims,” said Tim Duy, professor of practice in the department of economics at the University of Oregon.  

As for whether Oregon is near a peak in unemployment claims, Duy said it’s hard to tell.  

“We can expect, I think, high levels of claims here for a while,” he said. “We’re sort of waiting to see first of all when we’re done with the first-round effects, when we get into the second-round effects and then when policy starts to put a little more of a floor under these weak economic conditions.”  

He added: “We also don’t know what will happen once we start moving some money through the economy through some other mechanisms — for example, the Payroll Protection Plan for the SBA loans. That should help stem some future losses as firms basically get reimbursement to hold employees on their payroll.”  

“There are a lot of factors in play,” Duy said. “The near term is obviously very distressing.”  

Duy said one improvement is that the Oregon Employment Department is making progress on processing claims.

According to the department, it had processed nearly 55,000 of the initial claims filed the week of March 29. The agency reported it had paid $28 million in benefits to Oregonians that week.  

“They’re getting better at processing the claims and that’s great. That means we’re moving money back into the economy more quickly,” Duy said. “There’s currently money being moved into the economy to compensate for job losses.”  

The federal CARES Act payments of $600 per week will begin processing through Oregon’s unemployment system this week, the department said.

It said it’s also receiving guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor to implement the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program which will allow self-employed, contract workers and gig workers to receive unemployment benefits.  

“None of these people were eligible before and now they’re eligible. That’s a huge additional benefit,” Duy said. “I think you’re going to find a lot more people who are able to gain access to the system now than in previous downturns.”

As far as recovery goes, Duy said, some sectors will have harder times than others due to the pandemic — mainly those involved in tourism and travel. 

He said a large part of recovery is going to be maintaining employer-employee relationships. 

"To the extent that these people are laid off but can expect to rejoin their job at some point in the future would help speed the recovery when we're able to start actually moving around without as much social distancing," Duy said.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.