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Battered, bloodied and bruised in 2020, employment in the Portland area has rebounded significantly.
The region was No. 10 in job growth among major metropolitan areas in 2021, according to new data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Oregon was No. 6 among all states, largely due to the Portland area’s rapid recovery, according to Christian Kaylor, an economist with the Oregon Department of Employment.
Portland’s rapid growth over the past year has mostly to do with how bad things are in 2020, Kaylor said. The seven-county area lost 8.7% of jobs that year, the ninth-worst performance among the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas.
Kaylor said he was surprised when he looked at the extent of the drop: “I knew we were bigger than the rest of the United States, but I didn’t expect us to be as big. miserable,” he said.
Regions that lost a larger share of workers in 2020 tend to be places with high concentrations of tourism jobs, including Las Vegas, San Diego, San Francisco, Orlando and New Orleans. All have been battered by the closures and abrupt halt to travel that accompanied the early days of the pandemic.
Last year, it was the same phenomenon, in reverse. Las Vegas had the fastest metro job growth by far last year at 13.7%.
Portland doesn’t have the same reputation as a tourist destination as other cities, but Kaylor said the area has lost 55,000 tourism jobs due to the pandemic. This sector is responsible for nearly half of the jobs that the region has still not recovered.
Maybe 70% of last year’s job growth was just a rebound from the Portland area’s terrible year 2020. But Kaylor said a further 30% reflected underlying “momentum” in the regional economy, reflecting economic strength that could continue into 2022.
However, he warned that the ongoing labor shortage could cap Portland’s growth. The state’s unemployment rate was near an all-time low in February, 4.0%, and Oregon has fewer than 90,000 unemployed workers.
For months, the state had more vacancies than unemployed.
Labor shortages are obviously limiting job growth, and Kaylor said this will eventually impact the broader economy.
In past booms, Portland was saved by smart young migrants who moved here to take advantage of a booming job market and the city’s reputation for good food, outdoor activities, of pleasure and general livability.
It’s unclear whether the bruises Portland suffered in 2020 and soaring housing prices in 2021 have tarnished the area’s reputation. But Kaylor said the length of Portland’s economic recovery may depend on whether the region regains its magnetic appeal.
“It’s been Portland’s superpower for decades,” he said, “a disproportionate percentage of people wanting to move here.”