Clatsop County and Springfield have been added to a list of high unemployment areas in Oregon, according to the Silverton-based Oregon Center for Public Policy (OCPP). The federal Department of Labor has issued its newest list of areas of long-term high unemployment — “labor surplus areas” — and Oregon’s list has grown to include 25 counties and the city of Springfield. Clatsop County in northwestern Oregon and the City of Springfield in Lane County are new to the list this year. The new list “reflects the regional disparities in Oregon’s economy, with two thirds of Oregon’s counties not well suited for the economic slowdown facing the state,” according to the non-profit research group.
“Labor surplus areas” are areas of long-term high unemployment relative to the rest of the nation. In labor surplus areas a high percentage of people seeking work locally are unable to find a job. A “labor surplus area” has an unemployment rate at least 20 percent above the average unemployment rate for all states (including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) during the previous two calendar years. If the national unemployment rate is 5 percent or less, any area with an unemployment rate of six percent or more is included.
The “labor surplus area” designation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration is used for awarding federal government procurement contracts, settling tie bids for federal contracts, and evaluating Small Business Administration loans. The “labor surplus area” designation is also a criteria for providing food stamps to adults unable to find work.
“Two years ago Oregon had only 16 labor surplus areas and the Department of Human Resources put into place a program to provide food stamps to adults unable to find work despite diligently looking for work,” noted OCPP executive director Charles Sheketoff. “That program ended in the spring of 1998. Now that Oregon’s list has grown to include 25 counties and one city, Oregon ought to take advantage of the federal government’s offer to help and seek the extra federally-funded food stamps. The additional food stamp benefits will help not only the unemployed Oregonians in these 26 labor surplus areas, but also the local economy in these 26 areas,” he added. Sheketoff noted that food banks throughout Oregon have experienced an increased demand over the last two years.
Under the 1996 federal welfare reform law, able-bodied adults without dependents may receive food stamps for only three months out of 36 months if they are working fewer than 20 hours per week. States can receive waivers to continue to provide food stamps in labor surplus areas. Oregon joins less than a dozen states not utilizing the waiver provision to serve labor surplus areas with additional federal food stamps. Earlier this year, Representatives Darlene Hooley and Peter DeFazio urged Oregon to use the waiver provision in federal law to bring more food stamps to the economically distressed areas of their districts.
“Historically, food stamps have been sensitive to the health of the economy — the use of the program naturally expanded to meet economic downturns. With a growth in the number of labor surplus areas and Oregon’s slowing economy, Oregon should seek the authority to allow the food stamp program to fulfill its role as a key component of the safety net both for individuals and for the economically troubled communities,” said Sheketoff. The state revenue forecast issued in September notes that “Oregon’s economy is clearly slowing.”
The 26 labor surplus areas are Baker, Deschutes, Clatsop, Coos, Crook, Curry, Douglas, Grant, Harney, Hood River, Jackson, Jefferson, Josephine, Klamath, Lake, Lincoln, Malheur, Morrow, Sherman, Umatilla, Union, Wallowa, Wasco, Wheeler Counties, Linn County less the City of Albany, and the City of Springfield. This list will be published in the Federal Register effective October 1.