558 N. Main St., Prineville, OR 97754 | (541) 447-6205
Federal benefits extended, but unemployment rate remains high
County’s unemployment rate has only dropped a percentage point or less in the past year
January 07, 2013
A recent extension of federal unemployment benefits will help nearly 200 Crook County residents, but a full job market recovery remains unlikely in the near future.
As part of a fiscal cliff aversion plan, Congress extended the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) deadline to Dec. 28, 2013. Without the extension, about 35,000 Oregonians would have lost unemployment payments as well as 180 to 200 Crook County residents.
People are eligible for EUC benefits after they have exhausted their initial 26-week allotment of payments provided by the State of Oregon. They can receive up to 47 more weeks for a total of 73 weeks. Once they exhaust those benefits, they are no longer eligible for unemployment insurance.
Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) expressed support of the EUC extension as part of the fiscal cliff package. Merkley said without the extension, those who still rely on the EUC payment “would have been cut off at the knees, without money to pay for food or rent as they look for work.”
Wyden added that unemployment benefits will remain “a lifeline for those who are still looking for work,” and he does not expect that to change until the economy improves.
In Crook County, the economy will not likely return to pre-recession levels in the foreseeable future. The local unemployment rate has dropped slowly for nearly two years, but only resulted in a year-over-year decline of 1 percent or less. For example, in November 2011, Crook County had a 14.3 percent unemployment rate and in November 2012, it has dropped to 13.4 percent.
“We’re slowly getting better, but not too quickly,” said Damon Runberg, WorkSource Oregon economist for the Central Oregon region. “The question is really are we going to get back to a pre-recession level of unemployment any time soon — and I don’t think that is something that we will see.”
The rate of decline for Crook County unemployment has so far mirrored the State of Oregon. In November 2011, Oregon’s unemployment rate was 9.1 percent, and has since dropped to 8.4 percent for November 2012.
Runberg expects the Crook County unemployment rate to continue dropping at the same pace as Oregon, but he did note that the community has some advantages that could help them improve more quickly.
“I think that you are seeing a diversification in some of the economy in Crook County,” he said, referencing the Apple and Facebook data centers in particular. “There are some new industries that are expanding, and I think that in the future, that bodes well for some changes in the Crook County economy.”
Runberg also pointed out that because Crook County has a relatively small population, a new business could have a greater impact on overall employment levels than it would in a larger community.
Todd Brown, public information specialist for the Oregon Employment Department, views the current trajectory of unemployment in Oregon favorably, despite the slow progress.
“There is a big difference in the amount of money going out on unemployment insurance,” he said. “The amount of people that need unemployment insurance has been steadily being reduced. The number of weeks we pay on insurance has been declining. So, everything is going in the right direction for us to be optimistic.”
Meanwhile, the Employment Department is continuing efforts to help those who still rely on unemployment benefits find work again. Brown noted that Oregon has 38 WorkSource centers with a lot of resources including business listings and access to employer databases.
“For those who are claiming this extended benefit (EUC), we have been setting up many interviews with them to advise them more closely on ways that can effectively get them back to work,” he said.