Thursday, April 17, 2014

Unemployment: Duration and Reasons in Oregon

This week we received a couple of variations on this question: How long do unemployed Oregonians stay unemployed?
The Current Population Survey tells us that in 2003 and 2004, the median duration that a person remained unemployed in Oregon totaled roughly 10 weeks. That dropped as low as seven weeks before the economic downturn. The state's largest monthly recessionary job losses occurred in 2008 (average -5,500 jobs per month) and 2009 (-6,700 jobs per month). The median number of weeks unemployed rose to eight and then 13, respectively, in these years.

Oregon started to see monthly job gains again in the spring of 2010. Employment growth was relatively slow though, with average monthly gains of 1,400 jobs that year. So although the recession had technically ended, many remained unemployed, and the median duration jumped upwards to 23 weeks.

Oregon saw more consistent, but still somewhat slow, growth in 2011 and 2012. The median duration of unemployment in the state started improving, down to 20 weeks in 2011, then 14 weeks in 2012. Last year brought more substantial employment gains, but data for the median duration of unemployment are not yet available.
Of course there's more than just the monthly jobs numbers driving the length of unemployment in Oregon**. Still, additional data from the Current Population Survey show that most unemployed Oregonians in 2008 and 2009 were those who lost their jobs (rather than new entrants to the labor force), or those who quit their jobs voluntarily.

Between mid-2009 and the beginning of 2013, the number of unemployed Oregonians who had lost their jobs declined from a peak of 142,000 to about 75,000. The declines are likely due to some combination of those job seekers finding employment, giving up the job search, or leaving the labor force for some other reason. Whatever the case, these subsets of the unemployed are affecting the overall duration of unemployment in Oregon.

**Extended Unemployment Insurance benefits potentially play a role in raising unemployment duration. During the Great Recession, a combination of federal and state extensions moved the maximum possible number of weeks to receive UI benefits from 26 to 99 weeks -- and for a brief period as many as 112 weeks -- in Oregon. In 2013, an unemployed Oregonian could potentially receive up to 63 weeks of UI benefits. That dropped back down to 26 weeks in 2014. UI benefit recipients are required to actively seek work, which keeps them in the unemployed count. If the long-term unemployed continue job seeking activity after exhausting benefits -- at 26 weeks pre-recession, at 99 weeks following the recession, or at 26 weeks again now -- they continue to count as unemployed. If not, they don't. 

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