Long Covid continues to keep Oregonians out of workforce as state rebounds from job losses

The state has nearly returned to pre-Covid job numbers, but for up to 280,000 Oregonians, long Covid has led to job and wage losses

By: - July 20, 2022 3:53 pm
Restaurant closed covid

The leisure and hospitality industries in Oregon, encompassing restaurants and hotels, are recovering jobs lost during Covid slower than other industries. (Getty Images)

Oregon is nearing a full recovery of jobs lost during the pandemic, according to the Oregon Department of Employment. But the gains are uneven, and for some industries, and hundreds of thousands of Oregonians experiencing long Covid, the road ahead is still uncertain. 

Oregon has regained 94% of jobs lost since the beginning of the pandemic, according to data the Employment Department released Wednesday. 

“We’re projected to return to pre-Covid job numbers fully by the end of this year,” said Gail Krumenauer, an employment economist at the department, in an online news conference. 

Nationwide, about 98% of jobs lost during the pandemic have been regained. 

In Oregon, construction, health care and social services, leisure and hospitality along with  “other services” that encompass everything from machinery repair to dry cleaning to pet care, experienced the largest job gains. No industry had significant job losses, but leisure and hospitality continue to lag behind the overall job gains of other industries since the onset of the pandemic. 

Ongoing impacts for hospitality and leisure

In 2019, nearly 2 million people in Oregon were employed, which was a record, according to a study by researchers at the University of Oregon’s Institute for Policy Research and Engagement. Within weeks of public health mandates that closed many businesses, nearly 15% of those jobs were gone. Nearly half were in the leisure and hospitality sector, which includes restaurants and hotels. That sector has regained about 87% of the jobs it lost early in the pandemic, according to the Oregon Employment Department, but remains short nearly 17,000 jobs.

The reasons are many.

Krumenauer said the sector tends to suffer the most because it has the lowest average starting wages, offers fewer full-time positions and tends to employ younger workers who have higher turnover rates. 

She said the retail trade industry tends to have similar characteristics among its workforce, but noted it has been able to rebound more quickly by raising average starting wages by a dollar an hour this spring to about $17 per hour on average.

“The other thing is just the scale that leisure and hospitality needs to overcome to get back to pre-pandemic levels,” Krumenauer said. “That industry lost 120,000 jobs in just two months.”

Employers struggle to fill jobs

Employers are trying to fill about twice as many job openings today as they were during the spring of 2019, according to Krumenauer. This spring, she said, Oregon employers reported difficulty filling nearly 75% of jobs. Nationwide, there are two job openings for every unemployed person.

Krumenauer said Oregon employers have reported they are raising wages, increasing benefits and job flexibility and reducing some experience requirements. In the University of Oregon survey, about 5% of workers in the state said they had quit their jobs during Covid and nearly one-quarter considered quitting their jobs. They cited pay as the number one reason for quitting, followed by stress and burnout. Nearly one in three Oregonians reported a change in employment status during the pandemic. 

Long Covid impacts wages

In Oregon, up to 280,000 people have missed at least one work day due to long Covid, according to the study. Long Covid is defined by the Mayo Clinic as persistent symptoms, or symptoms that appear four weeks or more after the initial infection. Up to 30,000 Oregonians with long Covid have missed more than a year of work, according to the study. This has led to wage losses up to $1 billion, the study said. One in five adults in the U.S. who has contracted Covid is living with long Covid, according to the U.S. House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. This constitutes about 16 million Americans.The committee has found that about 1 million Americans have been forced to leave their jobs because of long-term medical conditions resulting from Covid.

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Alex Baumhardt
Alex Baumhardt

Alex Baumhardt has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post.