Malheur County unemployment worsens again as statewide numbers improve

While dine-in has opened back up in Malheur County, restaurants are still maintaining carry-out orders. Employment in the hospitality industry in Malheur County continues to drop. (The Enterprise/Kezia Setyawan)

The unemployment rate in Malheur County rose slightly in May, while the overall state rate dropped by 1 percentage point, according to Christopher Rich, regional economist with the state Employment Department.

The unemployment rate was 8.3%, up just 0.2 percentage point from April.

Employment was down 140 from April to 11,190 and is down 760 jobs from a year ago.

The biggest drop in the county from April was a loss of 70 jobs in the education and health services sector and another 30 in trade.

The restaurant and motel industry continued to show declines, losing another 20 jobs in May. That sector is down 290 jobs from a year ago.

Given Malheur County’s historical employment rates from April to May, the recent figures were “not surprising at all,” said Rich.

The county “operates mostly on a different schedule” from many other parts of the state, he said, and when the employment rate in most other counties is moving in one direction, Malheur County is “sometimes going the opposite way or not doing anything.”

“Typically, May for Malheur is kind of a ‘not doing anything’ transition,” he said, with a slight change in the unemployment rate one way or the other.

The county also saw no change in its civilian labor force over that month, he said.

The most significant drops in employment across the state occurred in April, and Malheur County was no different, he said. The county had the third-lowest unemployment in the state in April, and it had the fourth-lowest in May.

Three other counties — Jefferson, Wasco and Wheeler — showed increases in unemployment rates over May, he said.

Eastern Oregon shows “a lot bigger seasonal swings in employment” than the rest of the state, he said.

The disparity between Malheur County and most of Oregon, he said, is due to the makeup of industries in the county, which don’t typically show trends of increased hiring in May.

Wallowa County, which is “heavily tourist driven,” typically gears up on staffing for leisure and hospitality around May and June, he said, and Grant and Harney counties are “both tacking on a lot of forest service employment during that time.”

News tip? Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian by email at [email protected] or call 541-473-3377.


Reader support allows the Enterprise to provide in-depth, accurate reporting that otherwise would not get done. Keeping the community well informed is essential. SUBSCRIBE – $5 a month, automatically. DONATE – to provide additional support.