With strong jobs growth, Oregon unemployment rate falls to levels seen just before recession

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PORTLAND, Oregon — Oregon's unemployment rate has dropped to a level not seen since the days before the economy plunged off a cliff into the Great Recession.

The December unemployment rate fell to 6.7 percent, the state Employment Department said Wednesday, a result of strong job gains in the last three months of 2014 and a slackening in the rush to rejoin the workforce.

The last time the rate was as low was in August 2008.

It had hovered at 7 percent for months as the state recorded job gains, encouraging people who'd stopped looking for work during and after the recession to start putting in applications.

But in December, the agency said, the labor force grew only slightly.

The agency says job gains in December topped 8,000, and totaled about 24,000 for the last quarter of the year.

December hiring was unusually widespread in the various sectors of the economy, the agency said.

Job gains were strong in government, rebounding after a few years of cuts, and in construction, health care, transportation, warehousing, utilities, restaurants and lodging.

Retail job gains were 2,000 higher than normal.

"That means retailers hired more people than they usually do during the holiday season," said a state economist, Nick Beleiciks.

The employment department's report was buttressed by data from Tim Duy, a University of Oregon economist whose indexes of regional economies within Oregon also contained upbeat indicators.

He singled out unemployment claims, which are staying low. "Claims at these levels generally foreshadow further job growth in future months," he wrote.

An exception, he said, is in home building. Although sales are solid, construction outside Portland is characterized by "spotty, stop-and-go activity," Duy said.

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