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Coronavirus economy inches back but millions have permanently lost their jobs

The U.S. Department of Labor reports 2.4 million people remain out of work long-term and 3.8 million people have now lost their jobs permanently.

PORTLAND, Oregon — COVID-19 continues to hurt people financially.  And although some are getting back to work, others are finding their jobs are gone forever.

The hospitality industry was hit hardest in terms of jobs lost. Sunny days and outside seating have helped bring many back to work, for now.

But the overall picture isn't so bright. Nationally, the unemployment rate dropped to 7.9% in September. But the U.S. Department of Labor said 2.4 million people remain out of work long-term and another 3.8 million people have now lost their jobs permanently.

“That temporary unemployment is starting to drop, but the longer-term unemployment those 15 or 20 weeks out, is starting to rise up and that's definitely a concern”, said Tom Potiowsky, a former state economist for Oregon who is now a retired professor emeritus and senior advisor at Portland State University’s Northwest Economic Research Center. 

He said what we are experiencing might better be called a "virus cycle," than a "business cycle," which may ultimately help the unemployed.

“So that if the virus cycle works its way out and we get a vaccine, you still have skills for jobs that will start to open back up again,” Potiowsky said.

This really is an unpredictable recession, nothing about it has been typical,” said David Gerstenfeld, acting director of the Oregon Employment Department.

Gerstenfeld said the state is getting caught up, paying people unemployment benefits, but there is still a lot of work to do.

Oregon hit a high of 14.9%, or 314,000 people, out of work in April. The rate is down to 7.7%, but still twice as many people are unemployed now as at this time last year. There is plenty of recovery to go.

“So, we're certainly planning right now and still focusing everything we have on getting benefits paid out, but also being ready to help businesses as they need new workers and helping workers find the jobs that hopefully will be coming more and more available,” said Gerstenfeld.

In Washington, unemployment has gone from a high of 14.4% in April to 8.5% in August.

Clark County has progressed from a high of 14.7% unemployed in April to 9.1% unemployed now.

Washington Employment Security Department regional economist Scott Bailey monitors southwest Washington. He described the recovery this way:

“A sizable bounce back in May, smaller June, smaller July, smaller August, starting to taper off," he said.

Bailey said getting back to a new normal will require a vaccine, more federal aid and common sense health safety.

“If you want the recovery to come quicker, socially distance and wear a mask, period," he said.