Tillamook and Columbia Counties have been added to a list of long-term, high unemployment areas in Oregon, and Sherman County has been removed, bringing the total to 27, according to the Oregon Center for Public Policy (OCPP). This marks the third year in a row that the number of “labor surplus areas” has grown in Oregon.
A “labor surplus area” has an unemployment rate at least 20 percent above the average unemployment rate for all states throughout the previous two calendar years. Areas with unemployment rates under 6 percent are not included, even if they fit the primary criteria due to very low national unemployment rates.
The federal government uses the labor surplus area designation to determine how it will distribute its resources in a number of programs. For example: Under the 1996 federal welfare reform law, adults aged 18 to 50 without dependents may receive food stamps for only three months out of 36 months if they are working fewer than 20 hours per week. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will waive the three-month time limit for people living in labor surplus areas if the state requests the exemption.
“The state should make it easier for people hunting for work in depressed areas to get food stamps, and one thing they could do is use the federal dollars available to them,” said Linda Peckron of Progressive Options, an advocacy organization in Lincoln County, one of the labor surplus areas. “It won’t cost the state any more money, and there’s people who need it badly.”
Each year in October, the federal Department of Labor publishes a list of “labor surplus areas,” counties and cities whose unemployment rate has remained well above national averages for two years. The number of labor surplus areas in Oregon has grown from 16 in October, 1996, to 27 in October, 1999.
Twenty-six Oregon counties and one city were named this year, so that most of rural Oregon is now included. The new list, according to Michael Leachman, a policy analyst at the Oregon Center for Public Policy, “reflects the regional disparities in Oregon’s economy and highlights that many rural Oregonians face difficult labor markets.”
The October 14th USDA announcement that Oregon ranked worst of all states in a study of hunger and sixth worst in food insecurity lends urgency to the need for food stamp relief in labor surplus areas, according to Leachman. “With so many Oregonians going hungry,” he said, “it is time to reinstate the labor surplus area exemptions to help rural Oregon.”
The 27 labor surplus areas are all of Baker, Clatsop, Columbia, Coos, Crook, Curry, Deschutes, Douglas, Grant, Harney, Hood River, Jackson, Jefferson, Josephine, Klamath, Lake, Lincoln, Linn, Malheur, Morrow, Tillamook, Umatilla, Union, Wallowa, Wasco, and Wheeler Counties and the City of Springfield in Lane County. The list of labor surplus areas was published in the Federal Register.