NEWS UPDATE FROM STATE REPRESENTATIVE DAVID GOMBERG: Reflections on Memorial Day and Veterans Services

By Representative David Gomberg, House District 10

Hello Neighbors and Friends,

Driving east on Highway 20, about ten miles from the beach, you will encounter two “Fallen Hero” signs.

Many Oregon families lost sons or daughters in Vietnam. Only four Oregon families lost two sons. And only the Johnson family of Toledo lost sons in more than one branch.

Charles Johnson, a navy corpsman, was killed during his third tour at age 23. His younger brother, Clifford Johnson, serving in the US Army, was killed in action at age 21.

But there is more to this story of service and sacrifice.

Charles and Clifford had no children. They had no siblings. And so when they were lost, eventually, the Johnson family was lost as well. That is the nature of sacrifice and what we honored yesterday, Memorial Day.

I’ve worked in Salem to see signs placed in our district to remember our uniformed services and first responders who have given that “last full measure”. It is my hope that those markers will remind us, not just on Memorial Day, but every day, of the kind of people who live here.

You can learn more about the Johnsons and the dedication of their “Fallen Hero” signs here.

Charles Eugene Johnson - Fallen Hero Memorial Sign

In Oregon, we erect highway signs to those we have lost. And we also work to provide services to those still with us. Sadly, seven of ten Oregon veterans are not enrolled in veteran support programs.

In 2016, Oregonians passed Measure 96 by over 80%, devoting 1.5 percent of state lottery net proceeds toward veterans’ services. But when the legislative session convened just a few weeks later, we learned that the draft budget prepared by the Executive Department had offset these new dollars with a $10 million reduction in the “old” dollars. There was no net increase in veteran spending and that was not what Oregonians wanted or expected!

The Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs (ODVA) is one of the budgets sent to the committee I co-chair. And throughout the course of the 2017 session, we worked with legislative fiscal staff to fully fund both existing programs and new Measure 96 allocations. We doubled county veterans’ services, expanded campus veterans’ programs, increased housing and health care, and created new mental health services. Our updated budget contained all of the old money and all the new money as well! You can watch the committee meeting here at the 46 minute mark and the very emotional discussion at 1:03. In my years of service in budget committees, I’ve never before seen a room break out in applause when a budget was approved. Listen at the 1:17 mark.

The measure passed in the Senate with one “no” vote but encountered some opposition in the House because some of the funding commitments were spread into the health care and housing budgets rather than all set clearly in Veterans’ Affairs. You can listen to the entire debate here at the 47:30 mark. Or you can listen to my opening and closing arguments here.

The debate was an important one and listening will help you better understand veteran support in Oregon and the budgeting process as well. Those veterans have earned our support, deserve our support, and often need our support. Ultimately the measure passed the House on a vote of 36 to 19.

Last week, I detailed the economic forecast for the state. But as I continue to say, statewide numbers provide little insight into local conditions. And not all parts of the state are growing or prospering.

I asked our regional economist for more focused central coastal information and learned a lot from the response.

Payroll employment in leisure and hospitality in Lincoln and Tillamook counties remains below pre-pandemic levels. As of March 2022, the industry was about 200 jobs below its March 2019 level in Tillamook County and about 300 jobs below the March 2019 level in Lincoln County.

Total nonfarm payroll employment remains below pre-pandemic levels in those counties as well. As of March 2022, Lincoln County was still about 1,270 jobs (-6.7%) below its pre-pandemic peak, and Tillamook County was still down 470 jobs (-4.9%).

This situation is also true for Oregon as a whole. The state’s nonfarm payroll employment remains below its pre-pandemic peaks for both total payroll employment and leisure and hospitality payroll employment.

So hospitality is down and non-farm employment is down, but total employment has recovered to pre-pandemic levels in both counties. What’s going on??

There has been a significant increase in self-employment statewide since the pandemic recession and that appears to be the case for Lincoln and Tillamook counties as well. Total employment for Lincoln County in March 2022 matched its all-time high set in 2017, and was about 100 higher than the level of March 2019. Tillamook County’s total employment was about 300 higher than its pre-pandemic peak set in March 2019. In other words, there are more people working in both counties than before the pandemic, but not as payroll employees.

At the same time, we have more unemployment in both counties than before the pandemic. There were about 300 more people unemployed in Lincoln County in March 2022 compared to the pre-pandemic low, and about 80 more in Tillamook County compared to the pre-pandemic low. But neither county has a particularly large number of unemployed and the numbers have been declining pretty quickly.

The roughly 1,100 unemployed in Lincoln is similar to the number that existed in 2016, and Lincoln County’s unemployment rate in March 2022 was 5.2%. Lincoln County’s unemployment rate before the pandemic was as low as 3.9% so it is quite plausible that it may continue to decline a little more. Tillamook County had about 495 unemployed people in March 2022 and its unemployment rate was 4.1%. Tillamook County’s rate got as low as 3.5% before the pandemic recession, so it is very close to any recent low and may not decline much more.

The number of people with continuing unemployment insurance claims has returned to the pre-pandemic levels when tight labor markets also occurred. In March 2022, Lincoln County had 193 continuing claims for insurance versus a low of 191 before the pandemic. Tillamook County had 102 claims in March versus 95 claims as a low before the pandemic.

In sum, payroll employment is lower in both counties than before the pandemic, but more people in total are working, probably due to more self-employment and possibly fewer people holding multiple jobs. Childcare expense and availability contribute to this trend as costs for two kids can exceed a full-time minimum wage income. It makes better sense to stay home, start a home-based business, and bond with your kids rather than send them to childcare and then go to work to pay for it.

It is possible that given the tight labor market and number of jobs available, people are being choosier about selecting a job. This may be especially true for lower-wage, customer-facing jobs which are common in leisure and hospitality.

A new USS Oregon officially joined the U.S. Navy fleet on Saturday. The nuclear-powered fast attack submarine will be the first U.S. Navy ship to carry the state’s name since 1893, when the battleship USS Oregon was launched.

Each Virginia-class submarine has had an official sponsor, a woman with a connection to the vessel’s namesake state. Their role is to bring good luck to the submarine and crew, with duties including breaking a bottle of champagne over the hull of the submarine and giving the first order after a commissioning. The sponsor of the commissioning of the USS Oregon is Dana Richardson of Corvallis, the wife of Admiral John Richardson, the former Chief of Naval Operations.

You can read more about this new submarine along with history of other Navy ships named for the Beaver State. One factoid I found interesting: The battleship USS Oregon was 351 feet long — 26 feet shorter than the new USS Oregon submarine.

USS Oregon

With Legislative Days starting tomorrow, most of my week will be spent in front of a computer zooming into a variety of meetings.

I was delighted to speak at the ribbon cutting for Lincoln City’s new Mobility Access project at ten today in Taft.

Lincoln City has done something amazing. They found a way to make their beaches accessible to individuals with limited mobility, using the simple, innovative concept of roll-out pathways and free beach wheelchairs. The mats will be installed from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and they will be available at Taft Waterfront Park, the D River Wayside, and at SW 33rd.

We’re all proud of our Oregon heritage that the beaches belong to all of us. Now they can be used by more of us!

Lincoln City Beach Mobility Access Project

Next Saturday I’ll be speaking at the Yachats Community Preparedness Fair. The event is at the Yachats Commons from 9 am to 2 pm. And early Monday morning, before you see the next newsletter, I’ll be the 10 am guest on KTIL radio for Tillamook Today.

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address: 900 Court St NE, H-480, Salem, OR, 97301