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By The Skanner News | The Skanner News
Published: 09 November 2009

SALEM, Ore. (AP) -- Underemployment figures for Oregon suggest the state economy may be in even worse shape than indicated by a jobless rate of 11.5 percent.
Recent figures show about one in five Oregonians in the labor force can't find a job, are working fewer hours than they would like or simply have given up looking.
The Statesman Journal cited a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report that indicates Oregon has the second-highest figure for underemployment in the country.
The federal report, called "Alternative Measures of Labor Underutilization for States," has a category known as "U-6."
This measure counts people not included in the standard unemployment rate: "discouraged" workers, who have stopped looking for employment, and "marginally attached" workers who have temporarily suspended their job searches.
Also included in the U-6 category are people who must settle for part-time employment.
Oregon's latest U-6 figure of 20.1 percent ranks the state just behind Michigan's rate of 20.9 percent. The U-6 average for all 50 states is 15.2 percent.
The Statesman Journal also noted that about a third of the Oregonians who are no longer considered actively looking for work are from Marion and Polk counties, or the Salem area.
The newspaper cited Oregon Employment Department figures that show the state labor force has declined by 6,769 workers in the past year.
The Salem area has a disproportionate number of those former workers: 2,114 by the state's most recent tally.
In comparison, the more populous Portland metro area saw a smaller decline in its labor force. The Portland area, including Vancouver, Wash., had 1,177 fewer workers from September 2008.
Meanwhile, the labor force in the Bend and Deschutes County area increased by 1,777 workers -- a 2.2 percent increase from a year ago. The growth in the labor force comes despite an unemployment rate in Central Oregon that's been running several full percentage points above the mid-Willamette Valley.
But economists are at a loss to explain why the labor force numbers for Oregon counties are so volatile.
"Normally, it's not that chaotic," said Pat O'Connor, a regional economist with the state employment department, whose territory includes the Salem area.
Kathleen McCarty, 54, a Keizer resident who was laid off in August, told the Statesman Journal she doesn't need a government report to know how dismal the job market has become.
"The stuff that is out there," she said, is "not going to keep a roof over my head."
For six years, McCarty had worked at manufacturing plant in Stayton that made wooden joists for commercial and residential construction. She operated a type of specialized saw.
McCarty hasn't had a job interview, and said her chances of finding a good job without retraining are slim.
At The Salvation Army's homeless shelter in Salem, the shelter's staff see examples of how layoffs and underemployment turn to desperation. The shelter routinely turns away about four families per week because of lack of room. Requests for food boxes have increased.
"In this kind of job market, you have people with college degrees who are looking for janitorial work. It's hard to compete," said Dan Reichman, the shelter's chaplain.



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