May 9, 2024 - News

Portland's true 2023 unemployment rate hit about 20%

A bar chart showing the U.S. metro areas with the highest and lowest True Rate of Unemployment in 2023. The measure shows the share of the U.S. labor force that is functionally unemployed (seeking but unable to find a full-time job, is unemployed or is employed in a position earning less than a living wage).
Note: Share of the U.S. labor force that is functionally unemployed (seeking but unable to find a full-time job, is unemployed or is employed in a position earning less than a living wage); Data: Ludwig Institute for Shared Economic Prosperity; Chart: Axios Visuals

Portland's true unemployment rate last year was 20%, compared with its official rate of nearly 3.9%, according to a study from the Ludwig Institute for Shared Economic Prosperity (LISEP).

Why it matters: Unemployment in Portland has steadily recovered from pandemic highs, but a more nuanced look at the region's workforce data reveals a larger chunk of individuals who can't find a living-wage job.

The intrigue: Bend had the lowest true unemployment rate (11%) among all the U.S. metros tracked by the institute.

What they're saying: "Currently the share of prime-age Oregonians who have a job is at a record high," state economist Josh Lehner wrote after the Employment Department released its most recent report last month.

Between the lines: The true unemployment rate tends to track — but also be much higher than — the headline Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment rate, which excludes anybody who has stopped looking for work and those discouraged by a lack of jobs or the demands of child care.

  • The BLS rate also excludes people who might be earning only a few dollars a week; LISEP, by contrast, counts anybody earning less than $25,000 per year as unemployed.

Zoom out: Portland's true unemployment rate is about 3 percentage points lower than the national rate of 23%.

  • But it is higher than that of many major metros, including the Twin Cities (19%), San Jose (18%) and Denver (16%), which ranked as the national leader for living-wage jobs.
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